Circus develops new Indigenous talent

(Transcript from World News Australia Radio)

A leading Australian circus says a special Indigenous program is turning out a new batch of talent.

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For the first time this year, two graduates from the program are taking part Circus Oz’s national and international tour.

Naomi Selvaratnam with this report.

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Many children dream of running away to join the circus.

When Muluridgi and Mbarbarum man Mark Sheppard was growing up, he had no such plans.

“It may be hard to believe but I am one of the quieter ones in my family! But I have had opportunities presented to me that have allowed me to be able to transfer that and put it into some sort of theatrical setting.”

After working as a professional dancer and entertainer, Mr Sheppard was selected in 2012 to take part in Circus Oz’s Blackflip program, an initiative providing circus training to Indigenous performing artists.

He trained in acrobatics, clowning and dance.

Mr Sheppard is now one of the circus’s lead entertainers.

He says he draws on his culture during his performances.

“It’s about telling stories, but it’s also about providing entertainment and a way for people to be able to come together as a community. That idea of what a community is able to create once everyone is together, even if it is just for two hours.”

Kamilaroi man Dale Woodbridge from New South Wales has a background in dance.

He’s also a Bllackflip graduate, and says his culture feeds strongly into his work.

“Our culture is about telling stories, and that’s definitely what I do on stage. Even not on stage, being just with the company, we have our own story and we’re playing it out but being on stage and letting my story come through my performance, I guess that’s my culture and that’s how I keep close to it.”

However, Mr Woodbridge says he initially struggled with transferring his skills as a trained dancer into acrobatics.

“It was kind of hard to think of myself as a circus performer, being around so many experienced people. But within our company in the performance group we do have a lot of people that support each other and they let me know that I can be a dancer and an acrobat, and I don’t have to worry about not having the experience or whatnot, because I have something else to bring to the table, which kind of makes our group whole, we all have something different.”

Before the Blackflip program was introduced, there had only ever been one Indigenous performer in Circus Oz.

Now, organisers are hopeful that even more Indigenous performers will have the chance to take to the main stage.

Indigenous Programs Manager at Circus Oz, Joshua Bond, says the program has helped to foster Indigenous talent.

“Originally we were finding that there weren’t that many trained Indigenous acrobats of a high level of acrobatic skill. However there was a plethora of talented Indigenous performers from dance or theatre or comedy with transferable skills.”

And Mr Sheppard’s advice to budding Indigenous circus stars?

“Don’t let anything hold you back. Jump in at the deep end from every door that opens up and don’t be ashamed, just allow yourself to really shine.”