News & Reviews

Sydney, Australia - altmedia; Circus Oz Review

18th January 2016

Circus Oz has been going for 37 years. My personal interest in the group began when I started dating an upside down female drummer called Tanya in the late eighties. Every night she used to dress in faux leopard skin and get strapped into her drum kit as she was lowered to the ground head first. Consequently, her hair did strange things against gravity and required oodles of hair spray. Every night I had a panic attack thinking she may fall out of her straps, but no, that never happened, she just drummed like a wild thing and went on to leave the circus and form an all-girl band.

Some things have remained over the years, like the animal skin costumes, a parody on the fact that it’s a Circus with human animals and the parody of animal training with people of all shapes, colours, genders and cultures jumping through the multiple hoops.

The factor that cut across the diversity was the awesomely high skill and energy level of the performers and the fact that most play a musical instrument as well. They even had a whole band of trumpeters as the performers told bad fart jokes. The kids in the audience loved it as they were invited up on stage.

The cheekiness began as we walked in with one of the ushers/performers/musicians saying to a man in a fire uniform in the audience; “You came straight from work? Did you?” He replied, in a broad ocker accent, “That’s right, mate.”

The show included jugglers, corporates in suits doing acrobatics, hoola hoopers, trapeze artists, rope climbers, unicyclists, chair climbing balancers, be speckled comedians and much more.

The picture here is of Dale Woodbridge-Brown facetiously described in the programme as “human being, often inappropriate, definitely wonderful, and easily distracted.” Olivia Porter would be most annoying to do yoga class with as she would challenge your non-competitive yogic Zen. She is incredibly flexible, and “once dreamt of being a superstar soccer player” but after heartbreak decided to juggle smaller balls instead, or the so the backstory goes. Another female superstar, Sharon Gruenert is super short, yet she is really strong – “Born the youngest and the smallest, Sharon needed to be brave and always push herself physically.”

Mike Finch, the current artistic director, since 1997 writes: “There are now 40 people employed by the company. We tour from Broadway to remote First People’s communities. We run programs for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander performers, underprivileged Kids, under stimulated corporate groups, resilient asylum seekers snad local residents. We produce, present and stage a year round program of events in our very own 100 year old Melba Speigeltent. We provide rehearsal space for dozens of hardworking independent circus companies who are all critical member of our vibrant ecosystem… We nurture, mentor new endeavours including an integrated disability circus project and the very first possibility of circus of asylum seekers and refugees. “

Circus Oz is one of the survivors of artistic expression at a time when other brilliant groups and organisations like Metro Screen have been shot down, now dead and buried. Indeed, running an arts company when commercial acclaim, anti-Art and celebrity talent is a sign of the times and all artists feel like they are being asked to play the drums while strapped in and upside down.

On the back page of the programme, Circus Oz lists the extended mob that includes a cast of hundreds who have generously supported and sponsored the circus as well as a tribute to the legacy of John Pinder, 1945-2015. The tribute is touching and explains the success. “Your exuberance, irreverence, non-bull shit can-Do attitude and your yellow glasses, will be sorely missed.”


Barbara Karpinski

Sydney, Australia - altmedia; Circus Oz Review -