NICA’s empty bodies

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By Louise Avery

Our entertainment was waiting as we shuffled into the National Institute of Circus Arts. A girl was sitting high on a trapeze looking down at the audience with what could have been a mocking laugh. With stragglers trying to negotiate a seat a few of the cast wearing unprepossessing street clothes were slowly working the room saying Hello to seated audience members. A couple wearing a strange oval mask reflecting our faces peered at people silently leaving me wondering what we are meant to expect in the show Empty Bodies.

The media release informed me that the show is about our journeys from birth to death, examining our representation of self through language and clothing. This was a big topic for people barely out of secondary school to tackle but the show was written directed and choreographed by a team of exceptionally well-credentialed teachers including Zebastion Hunter who performed in Cirque de Soleil.

The show began once we were seated, with performers carried onto the stage, wrapped in plastic bags which when opened, exposed barely dressed in neutral colours, men and women. While we watched what they were doing, two women quietly dropped down from the rafters on ropes swinging, rolling and playing gracefully; everything happened so quickly in this first segment that the audience took some time to remember to clap when cast members enjoyed their solo spots.

It’s hard to describe what we are watching at a 2nd year performance at NICA, it was a lot of theatre performed with amazing acrobatics, a truly exceptional clowning scene with three men dressed in wedding dresses fighting over who would step up to the alter to wait for their groom, and enough rolling, tumbling, ropes and aerial work to challenge my vertigo issues. The performers displayed a list of skills in hand balancing, trapeze, juggling, Chinese Pole, Hula Hoops, Acrobatics, Contortion, Aerial Straps, Roue Cyr (I had to google this one, it’s a giant hula hoop which is quite spectacular), Tissu (no not tissues some aerial work on fabric) and pitching where I think they pitch each other around.

The students were faultless with not so much a slip or moment’s hesitation throughout the show written by award-winning writer Stephen Sewell who also wrote the Australian film The Boys.

The experience reminded me that these days you don’t have to run away for a gruelling apprenticeship to join the circus you can pop down to Prahran and study at NICA, which may be a little easy and a lot more exciting than studying business at RMIT.

Ultimately it was a theatre with skills, acrobatics and performance that was designed to amaze. It was as well an opportunity to explore form and concepts on life and death using circus and theatre. For these big themes, the 28 students showed poise, confidence and a memorable ability to bring ideas and their physicality to life. I can’t wait to see what they get up to in Third Year.

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