Deathfest, first seen in 2016, returns in a 2.0 version—Deathfest 2.0: A Duel with Death. Described as Australia’s first arts and culture festival on death, dying and the best way to live, the Metro Arts team has curated an important artistic response and provocation, designed to encourage discussions and reflection on dying and living. Central to the project, is We Live Here: commissioned by Metro Arts and developed by Flipside Circus (from an original concept by Jo Thomas), in conjunction with Hummingbird House, Robert Kronk (Dramaturg & Creator), with Natano Fa’anana and Bridget Boyle (Directors & Creators). It is an inspired commission.
Circus and death may appear an unlikely pairing: circus has connotations of life and laughter, in contrast with the sorrow and pain associated with death. But, as the Flipside Circus team so ably demonstrate, there are many parallels. Both depend on trust and determination, and require care and trained support. And just as Hummingbird House is clearly so very much more than ‘just’ a hospice, We Live Here is more than a catalogue of impressive circus skills.
We Live Here is a theatrical event: combining the work of five talented circus performers and creators (Indra Garvey, Mia Hughes, Amy Stuart, Skip Walker-Milne and Luke Whitefield), with great time-focused video projection and a moving soundtrack that included the words of parents, staff and supporters associated with Hummingbird House (Mik La Vage, Audio and Projection Designer). I have previously seen the talented Hughes, Whitefield, and Garvey as three members of the cast of eleven performers in Fusion (Flipside Circus’ 2017 Anywhere Festival production). And, again, they didn’t disappoint. From the compelling beginning of the show—where one of the younger performers portrayed the experience of being a child requiring complete care and support to move, manipulated and moving with the support of the rest of the cast—we were hooked.
Time, as the production reminds us, marches on. For the parents of life-limited children, time moves exceptionally fast—memorably demonstrated by Stuart on the clock-face treadmill of parental tasks accounting for every minute in a morning, concluding with “and it all begins again.” And this was not the only moment where Stuart, as a ‘mother figure,’ held the family together — often quite literally a circus tower of strength.
Stuart gave a compelling central performance, not only with some of the best hoop manipulation I’ve seen in a long while, but also in producing some wonderful strength work. Indeed, Stuart often seemed to have the rest of the cast on her shoulders, including a great ‘duet’ with Walker-Milne, who walked the Loose Rope. But every member of the cast worked well in the ensemble, and also had the opportunity to shine and demonstrate their individual skills, with every move connecting with the audio and illustrating aspects of the Hummingbird House story. Walker-Milne’s work on the Chinese Pole was a fluid, and fabulous highlight. But we were equally impressed with the balance work on the seats of the chairs, the humorous interchanges between the younger members of the cast, the climb up the stairs on the backs of fellow cast members, and the range of circus abilities on show.
Life-limiting conditions, respite and hospice care are connected with images of sorrow and death. But, as the audio and performance reminded us, families also seek ‘ordinary’ memories of love and laughter; of parties, hair-braiding and of playing together. One of the funniest parts of We Live Here had to be the creation of the ‘family’ playing in the pool, complete with goggles and a rendition of their own version of synchronised swimming Swan Lake cygnets (although we also enjoyed the performance of the romantic rooftop ‘date,’ created by the Hummingbird House team to provide respite for one couple).
Hummingbird House is one of only 3 hospices for children in Australia, and the only facility providing respite and end of life care for Queensland children. The organisation seeks to ‘provide best practice short break stays and care at the end of life for children with a life-limiting condition and their families, and to help families discover moments and create memories to last a lifetime.’ In We Live Here, the Hummingbird-Flipside collaborators have created wonderful memories that will live for many lifetimes, and deserves to attract more supporters for both organisations. The Metro Arts commission is an inspired jewel in the Deathfest 2.0 program, bringing stories and experiences of the families of younger people with life-limiting conditions to life through the work of young circus performers. We Live Here is a fruitful and inspiring collaboration—illustrating the vital work of Hummingbird House and the skills of the Flipside Circus creatives, creators and performers.
Verdict: Exceptional. I really hope this show gets more than the scheduled three performances. See it if you can. Look out for future productions by Flipside Circus, and why not find out more about the much-needed work by the Hummingbird House team.
Audience tip: 55 minutes There are only three performances of We Live Here in the 2018 Deathfest program (2nd November, 7pm, with two shows on 3rd November at 3pm and 7pm) Tickets $10. Why not keep an eye on the website and book ahead for future events in the Metro Arts program.
The reviewer attended the Friday 2nd November 2018 performance (7:00pm).
Pictures Credit: Creative Futures Photography.