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Big band runs away with the circus

While it’s not the big top, The Abbey in Nicholls is about as apt a venue in Canberra for an eccentric circus-based variety show. Besides, when the show is comprised solely of local talent, a tent would be superfluous.

A collaboration between Canberra City Band and Warehouse Circus, Swingin’ Circus Cabaret will see a host of circus performers do tricks ranging from juggling to acrobatics, unicycle, dance, singing, and even a straitjacket escape, all while being accompanied by live music from the local 20-piece Spectrum big band.

This is a first event of its kind in Canberra and surrounding regions, combining dozens of live performers in a thrilling spectacle of skill and amazement.

Production manager Jano Šimko tells Canberra Weekly that the variety show nature of Swinging Circus Cabaret creates a platform to incorporate a number of performing arts disciplines into the performance.

“We also have some dancing, some singing, and the circus involves a bit of acting too, so this is really combining all the arts together in one performance which is really exciting,” he says.

Šimko says the idea to bring live music and circus came together when he directed a circus adaptation of Pinocchio in Sydney.

“I wished we had live music there, but we didn’t really have enough resources to do that,” he says.

The variety show nature of Swinging Circus Cabaret creates a platform for Warehouse Circus to incorporate a number of performing arts disciplines into the show. Photos: Pat Gallagher.

The opportunity recently arose here when Šimko, who works at Warehouse Circus, recently joined Canberra City Band, enabling him to bring the two together.

“Being a musician myself, I always loved the idea of doing live music to some kind of performance … I thought ‘oh, this is my chance to do the thing I’ve always wanted to do’,” he smiles.

He says performing with live band creates a completely different atmosphere compared to using recorded music.

“If you have a good recording, then yes it’s okay, it’s always the same and you know what’s going to happen. When you have live musicians working really hard in real time to give me something of their own, I can take that and put it into my performing and it will make it much better,” he says.

Spectrum big band musical director Leisa Keen says she was excited by the prospect of performing with Warehouse Circus, as they don’t often get the opportunity to collaborate with other performers.

“We’re a community big band and aren’t professional, so for a lot of them it’s the first time they’ve had this kind of experience,” she says.

“There’s nothing quite like the sound of a live big band; it’s like a big wall of music that just hits you in the face.”

Keen says they’re hoping to open the eyes of the public to the fact there’s an entire community of local circus performers in Canberra, and inspire people of all ages to have a go.

“You don’t have to wait for the circus to come to town, it’s already here!”

Keen says playing music as an accompaniment for any live performance is more than a matter of just counting in and playing the song as stuff happens on stage.

“The timing of things can change and you might suddenly have to repeat little bits or follow the artist a little bit more, speed up and slow down … really accompanying their performance.

“Most of it has been choreographed to the music so you don’t have to really change it too much, but we really have to be aware that we’re there to support them and make that magic happen.

“The band will really have to get to the essence of the music and work dynamically,” she says.

With performances on Saturday night and Sunday afternoon, the matinee show will be family friendly, with face painting and a ‘mosh-pit’ area down in front of the stage for the kids to sit so they can be up close to the action.

Swingin’ Circus Cabaret will be performed at The Abbey, Nicholls, 24 August 6.30pm and 25 August 1pm; theabbey.com.au/shows

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