Circus Oz, the animal-free, national circus of Australia, will be performing at the Mondavi Center on Feb. 8 and 9. Founded in 1977 — six years before Cirque du Soleil — the comedic and contemporary theater has toured worldwide time and time again, to critical acclaim. This will be their second performance at UC Davis.
Mike Finch, Circus Oz’s artistic director and co-CEO, was trained in theater before pursuing circus performing. The upcoming performance titled From the Ground Up, inspired by Charles Ebbot photographs of American skyscraper workers, is his under his sole direction.
“Circus is theater that is deeply visceral,” Finch said. “[In theater] performers aren’t six meters up in the air when they’re performing King Lear! There’s a whole element that steps between suspension of disbelief — rather than pretending our characters are in physical danger, they literally are vulnerable. This makes it tantalizing; it’s never completely make-believe.”
The circus’ charm, Finch said, comes from its imperfection.
“[Circus] isn’t like movies: you never get to sign up on the definitive version, it’s never finished or perfect… it’s like gardening, or cooking or storytelling in a pub. It’s very human, and the moment you think you’ve got it right, it can all change,” Finch said.
One of the trapeze and aerial ring performers, Spenser Inwood, ran away to the circus, so to speak. Although she still attended school, as was required through the youth circus company she performed for, she had already toured around the world for 10 years by the time she joined Circus Oz.
Although she’s traveled worldwide, seeing the different cultures in her native country is Inwood’s favorite part of touring.
“We embrace Australia’s multiculturalism,” Inwood said in a Skype interview. “It’s important to have this conversation with the audience about the kind of society we want to be living in.”
The company has been committed to social justice as well as being a state-of-the-art circus company. Historically, they’ve backed various causes in Australia, particularly supporting gender equality, land rights for indigenous Australians and asylum seekers.
Finch described Circus Oz to be “at the progressive end of the spectrum.” The cast consistently features an equal number of men and women, as well as different sexualities and a number of indigenous Australians.
“At a fundamental level, we try to achieve a connection with the audience,” Finch said. “They are at the center of the whole endeavor. The audience should feel empowered to make noise, to interact, to feel uplifted and positive. Hopefully, it’s a diverse group of people, too — adults, children, rich people, poor people — as much diversity, as much humanity in that room as possible.”
Circus Oz’s newest forthcoming show will premiere in Melbourne, Australia in June. According to Clare McKenzie, International Programming representative for Circus Oz, they have built a facility in Melbourne in which the circus company will be able to develop more cutting-edge shows for the world to experience.
“This year we move into our brand new custom-made Secret Circus Laboratory Home Base deep in the heart of Melbourne,” McKenzie said. “From this purpose-built facility, Circus Oz aims to produce bigger, more spectacular and dangerously funnier shows.”
Circus Oz will be performing at Mondavi Center’s Jackson Hall on Feb. 8 at 8 p.m. and Feb. 9 at 3 p.m. Tickets start at $12.50 for UC Davis students and can be purchased at mondaviarts.org, by phone at (866) 754-2787 or at the door.