Circus a big top hit

Circus a big top hit

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Aerials instructor Sarah Healy with high-flying circus student Kamryn.

There is a secret history of the circus in Armadale, and behind the walls of Armadale’s Champion Centre, a program led by Circus WA is engaging that tradition with a program for Aboriginal youth.
Circus WA is famous in the state for their Fremantle-based big top, but when Artistic Director Jo Smith saw the opportunity to run a circus-skills program in Armadale, she wanted to create a holistic space to merge circus acrobatics with Aboriginal dance and culture.
“In order to engage communities, you need to engage all of who they are, not just say ‘here’s a class’ and hope people show up,” Jo said.
“We needed to create a space that was inclusive of parents and siblings, we needed to include good quality food to feed the young ones, and then there’s the spirit and the culture of the people we’re working with as well.
“We reached out to Yirra Yarkin Theatre Company and Marrugeku in Broome and asked, “How can we do this?”
“They created the framework for a circus program that is inclusive of Aboriginal culture and dance,” Jo said.
Jo sought the expertise of Derek Nannup, a legend of circus arts and dance who graduated from Cecil Andrews college in 1988.
At Cecil Andrews, Derek trained under Reg Bolton, a Scottish-born circus clown who brought his Suitcase Circus to Perth in 1985 and is commonly considered the father of social circus in WA.
“You can see the heritage line we are supporting; we recognise there’s a history of engaging with young people for the future,” Jo said.
“We have Derek Nannup’s son, Damon, culturally supporting the program, and while currently it’s focused on circus skills, slowly we will introduce cultural dance as well.
The Champion Centre provides the perfect space for the project.
“We’ve created a circus in there – we have two aerial points, a trapeze and a silk – the silk is two long lengths of fabric from the roof, you wrap the fabric around you, fall and climb and twirl, it’s really popular.
“We have three trainers covering aerials, hula hoops, juggling, acrobatics and tricking on the mini-trampoline,” Jo said.
Mt Richon Mother Hayley Leonard says the program has been amazing for her kids.
“I thought it was a great opportunity and when I suggested it to my kids, my eldest was shy and didn’t want to participate,” Hayley said.
“But now they love it, it’s really pushed them out of their comfort zone.
“They have heaps of equipment set up – crash mats, a trapeze, silks, heaps of stuff for kids to try.
“The staff and the instructors are great, they’re just there for the kids,” Hayley said.
And the staff has more than just circus skills in mind for the future.
“The idea is that we’re not just having a class every Wednesday, we act as a conduit.
“Last year we took the kids to see Shakespeare at Black Swan Theatre and over the holidays we want to take them to the big top in Fremantle.
“If we can hold on for long enough to grow, we want to bring up some of the teens – the focus is always around building their leadership qualities.
“It’s about getting the teens into an activity that has this breadth of engagement with them, their bodies and their culture.
“We’re building diversity in performance for the future.”