We are all lamingtons. Hell yeah we are. And after seeing Chasing Smoke, you’ll be celebrating your lamingtonhood as well. The debut show of Australia first and only Indigenous contemporary circus ensemble is a powerful, fun, and incisive work that takes the audience on a no-holds-barred, deep-dive into the uncensored history of the Indigenous people in Australia and the history of all of us living in this land. Chasing Smoke is a powerful new work that showcases the power of contemporary circus to tell important stories and move audiences. It is one of the must-see Australian shows of the moment.
Chasing Smoke has had a fast rise since its inception in Circus Oz’s BlakFlip program in 2017, including becoming a part of one of Australia’s leading circus companies, Casus, and winning the 2018 Green Room Award for Best Contemporary Circus. The current Brisbane season is the premiere of a redevelopment of the show as a solely ground based work. It is directed by Casus co-founder Natano Fa’anana, in collaboration with the ensemble members Lara Croydon, Ally Humphries, Harley Mann, Jack Sheppard, Dylan Singh and Pearl Tia Thompson. Following this season, the cast will be ready to tour the breadth of Australia and perform anywhere from basketball courts to community halls to swanky arts venues.
From the moment the audience entered the performance space, we are transported to “Aboriginal World”, an exhibit of noble savages and bush medicine tips, not far removed from the lessons of my classroom or the jokes I heard growing up. After gleefully destroying these clichés of white Australia, the six member ensemble quickly strip away the superficial and the artifice, to reveal their true selves, proud Indigenous young people and highly skilled carnies.
What follows is a rollicking, cheeky, insightful and at times confronting journey through of the history of the First Nations peoples of Australia, as seen through the eyes of their youth. The show begins in force with a group piece that is an energetic showcase of their circus skills, chemistry and charm as an ensemble. Following this, the six performers combine contemporary circus with dance, lip-sync, comedy and storytelling to explore the ancient history of the land we live on, the devastating impact of colonisation and the strength, struggles and survival of their people in contemporary Australia.
Utilising circus as storytelling, the ensembles’ skills explore the history of their people. Incarceration is presented through a tumbling. Identity and isolation through group acro and dance. Family and dreaming stories through juggling and diablo. The women of the ensemble show their strength of their community by lifting their peers. Nothing gloriously fits into a neat box. All pieces are backed by a soundtrack of some of the finest Indigenous musicians of this country.
Many times throughout the show I’m left with chills. Many pieces also pull no punches, leaving the audience audibly wincing. And many are just plain fun. Highlights include Harley’s gorgeous otherworldly diablo routine, Lara showing us the true ingredients of a lamington, Jack and Dylan’s battling acro duo, Pearl’s lip-sync through songs of tolerance to songs of resistance, Ally’s dance against the light and the guys vs girls trick-off to end all trick-offs. A few of the pieces lack the polish others, potentially the newer pieces from the redevelopment, but these will no doubt improve with time and experience. That being said, the cast hold us in rapt attention from the moment we entered the theatre until our third standing ovation.
What makes Chasing Smoke truly stand-out though is that shines a spotlight on each member of the ensemble. These intimate moments prove to be some of the most powerful of the show. All performers shares stories about what it like to be an Indigenous young person in Australia today. They tell stories of their family and mob, their connection to country and culture and what they love. They speak of finding identity, coming to country, and of loss, so much that was lost. But they also speak of strength, survival and pride. Stories that are so common, yet still so unheard by mainstream Australia, stories that should be shouted from the top of buildings. Stories that will now be performed across this land through this Ensemble. They carry the legacies of their families and elders who fought so hard and survived so that they can be on this stage. They do their mob proud.
Chasing Smoke shows the power and potential of contemporary circus for telling stories that matter. Utilising top-notch skills, incisive commentary and deeply personal stories, the ensemble take the audience with them on a powerful and moving journey through the history of Australia and into the lives of Aboriginal young people. We may have entered the theatre separately, but by the show’s end we joined the cast to declare #wearealllamingtons Make sure you to get a ticket before the season ends so you can too.
Chasing Smoke plays at the Brisbane Powerhouse from 24 October to 3 November 2018. Ads J attended Chasing Smoke on Friday 26 October.
Cast | Lara Croydon, Ally Humphries, Harley Mann, Jack Sheppard, Dylan Singh, Pearl Tia Thompson
Director | Natano Fa’anana
Co-director | Jesse Scott
Production Manager | Mik Lavage
Producers | Cluster Arts
Chasing Smoke was made possible and created through the Circus Oz BLAKflip Program.
This project has been supported by The Bridge, an initiative of Brisbane Powerhouse and Brisbane City Council.