Review: Sidesault at The Melba10 October 2018
“Sidesault at The Melba seeks to challenge and push the boundaries of contemporary circus. Featuring two action-packed weeks of thrilling circus works from six national and international companies, each one-hour performance is distinct, unconventional and sure to have you on the edge of your seat.”
Single Ticket: $27 (+ booking fee)
Three shows: $60 (+ booking fee)
Festival Pass (6 shows): $100 (+ booking fee)
Content warning: mentions of sexual assault
I have always been obsessed with circuses and carnivals. There is something so magical about the way you can shed your everyday worries at the entrance of the candy-striped tent to be transported into another world, filled with people challenging the impossible time and time again.
Needless to say, I jumped at the chance to review three of the six experimental circus acts earlier in the week, curated as part of Sidesault at The Melba in a back-to-back frenzy on their opening night.
To say that the shows demonstrated all the different sides of the word ‘experimental’ would be an understatement, but somehow, it all worked together in the end, forming an engaging and cohesive experience.
My Sight – Their Sight (11 – 14 October)
If you asked me which act of the three epitomised my expectations of an ‘experimental’ circus, I would tell you without a doubt that it’s My Sight – Their Sight.
Designed to explore the role vision plays in our lives, the show highlights the challenges that arise when you take away sight, as well as the trust and teamwork which develops in its place.
Firstly, the three performers started the show by running around chaotically between the audience seats and the stage area in the middle. This may have been in an effort to show the audience the disorientation those without vision might feel when they hear sounds around them getting closer and further away all at once when they are in an unfamiliar space.
Soon after, the show got underway and the performers took turns being blindfolded as they performed tricks such as climbing onto each other’s shoulders (with both performers blindfolded), jumping over and under each other and dancing in unison across the stage.
For the most part, they seemed unhindered by the lack of sight. It was notable that for most of the show, there was no, or very quiet music likely so that the performers could use sound to navigate themselves through the space.
I noticed myself trying not to breathe too heavily as well, careful not to distract them as they performed feats that would be considered daring even if they could use their sight.
Overall, I was incredibly impressed with the amount of practise that went into the show and the relationship the performers clearly shared with each other.
For people who are accustomed to sight, doing without is hard enough in everyday life. To perform acrobatics and circus tricks, where your depth perception and sense of balance are critical to your safety, the performers demonstrated incredible bravery.
My favourite part of the performance though was perhaps one of the slower segments when a male performer spotted a female performer as she danced across the stage blindfolded. The spotter made sure to never take his eyes off the performer, gently guiding her away from obstacles or edges should she ever be in danger’s way, but otherwise, he remained a comforting presence in the shadows so this moment in the spotlight could be wholly hers.
Laser Kiwi (11 – 14 October)
If My Sight – Your Sight was a beautiful and thought-provoking piece, then Laser Kiwi took a sharp 180 in the best way possible.
Just like how certain forms of high art like classical music or ballet might not be for everyone, if My Sight – Their Sight was too conceptual, Laser Kiwi’s unapologetically low-brow content may be more your cup of tea.
Filled to the brim with crass-jokes and terrible puns, the three kiwis from across the ditch knew just how to work the crowd. I don’t think there was a single person in the room who wasn’t breaking into laughter every moment we were not busy catching our breath back.
It is difficult to capture the essence of the show in words. It certainly sounds a bit ridiculous when you say ‘I watched a tall gangly ginger man carry a cardboard rocket between his teeth and blow out smoke from his vape as he walked across the stage to help us feel like we were in space’ or ‘a lady tried to impress her date by setting the scene of a romantic date with candles so she struck a match using her toes whilst upside down’ but just that happened and more.
The only complaint some may have is that the show had more elements of comedy than circus but as a fun and fresh performance that kept me on the edge of the seat the entire time, it is certainly not one I am willing to make.
Boss Squad (11 – 14 October)
Madhouse Circus and Point & Flex Circus
Finally, the last show of the night.
Once again, I cannot recommend seeing all three shows enough because it was as if the showrunners could hear my internal monologue.
Not enough circus-ing in the last act you say? Well, I present to you – Boss Squad.
Though the Boss Squad girls were no match for Cirque du Soleil, of the night, they were the group with the most choreographed tricks using a variety of props from see-saws to juggling clubs, hula hoops to the german wheel.
As a group promoting feminism, it was interesting to decipher the various messages they were weaving into their acts. One example is when a performer gets parts of her body that weren’t ‘good enough’ taped up (which of course, resulted in her becoming mummified in scotch tape). She then runs around, begging a shocked audience to help her as she wriggles free, demonstrating the bystander effect.
At times though, I found the messages a little too on the nose like the conversation between two performers that went something like “hey, did you know what marital rape is?” but then and again, there very likely were people in the audience who may not have known what feminism means who may not have been as receptive to these ideas if they were delivered traditionally.
Be warned though, if you are not into sideshow stunts or you are squeamish in general, there are moments of the show you might find disturbing or uncomfortable. I personally did not enjoy seeing one of the girls passing milk through her nose via a tube then proceed to throw up, nor when she stapled paper into her arms to start bleeding once that was removed. If that doesn’t sound up your alley either, I would say that makes up maybe 15% of the show, but consider yourselves warned.
What I found most powerful about this performance, beyond the shock factor and groovy empowering music I found myself jiving to, was the way you could see the girls supporting each other the entire time. The way they celebrated all their successes and their genuine happiness as the audience clapped and cheered was incredibly touching and made me think about the relationship I shared with my closest friends too.
Overall, these three shows took me on a rollercoaster of a night I will remember for a long time.
If you had some disposable income to spare, I highly encourage you to check out the other three shows as part of Sidesault at The Melba and see if any of them pique your interest.
I guarantee it will be a unique experience that your childhood self would never have known a circus could be.