By Matt Foley
How to make sense of the pandemic year of 2020?
Vulcana Women’s Circus (“Home of the Brave, Strong and Daring”) gives a dazzling perspective on this crazy year through a drive-in car-park performance, using circus, poetry and sound. Like a Joe Biden campaign rally, but definitely more fun.
Artistic director Celia White creates out of lockdown “a response to our collective experience of dislocation, isolation and craving for connection”. Angela Peita furnishes poetry that expresses life in the face of viral danger.
A performer with a megaphone quips, “During lockdown, Shakespeare wrote the play King Lear. What have you done?”
A vigorous cast of 22 circus performers dressed principally in plain white provides an elemental environment for us to “witness loneliness, chaos, cleanliness, lack of control, anxiety, fire, joy, wilderness, empathy, antagonism and imagine how we find our way out of there”.
Sitting cosily inside our cars in a car park in Morningside (now home to Vulcana after they sadly could not afford the higher rent at the Powerhouse), the audience is treated to a fast-moving array of fire twirling, tumbling, bicycles of all shapes and sizes being ridden forwards, backwards and upside down, and high jinks on the high wire.
For a (very) modestly funded arts body like Vulcana, necessity is the mother of invention; hence the wonderfully theatrical use of shopping trolleys and garbage bins. We are used to seeing shopping trolleys bearing toddlers in supermarkets but to see adult performers, in both concave and convex acrobatic pose, zooming about fearlessly in trolleys is a diet of surprises. Hints of panic shopping earlier in the year.
Who would have thought garbage bins could be metaphors? On the one hand, they are wheeled about fastidiously to pick up dropped bubble wrap and the sweepings of earnest cleaners; on the other hand, they are used to squeeze three adults into one bin in a quaint parody of social distancing.
Vulcana has a proud history under Celia White’s artistic leadership of community service to women, victims of domestic violence, African migrants and the deaf. Perhaps it is this which lends their production a shaft of common humanity and insight into living with the plague. As Albert Camus wrote last century, “there have been as many plagues as wars in history; yet always plagues and wars take people equally by surprise”. Your reviewer’s grandfather, a central Queensland miner, died of the Spanish flu pandemic in 1919, yet all that seemed to be yesterday and gone away, until 2020 and Covid-19.
Shakespeare may well have written a great tragedy during lockdown, but Vulcana has conjured up a great, life-affirming comedy in lockdown. Vulcana has put into practice the call for imagination in the words of the celebrated Indian author, Arundhati Roy:
(A pandemic) is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next. We can choose to walk through it, dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice, our data banks and dead ideas, our dead rivers and smoky skies behind us. Or we can walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world.