NICA - National Institute of Circus Arts
We are all aware of NIDA, whose graduates we see every night on television, as well as on the live stage. Now the new acronym is NICA - National Institute of Circus Arts. Based at Swinburne Institute of Technology, Melbourne, the 3-year Bachelor of Circus Arts began in 2001 and already has over 40 students, including Canberran Christian Reid.
Like Alex O'Lachlan and Gordon Rymer, currently at NIDA, Christian did not train for the circus at school in Canberra: but he spent years as a teenage member and coach in the Woden Valley Gymnastics Club, with support he still values from Alfred Deakin High School. Like the others he travelled after Year 12 to Europe where bar work (not the gymnastic type) sustained him, and came home looking for a new direction to take his gymnastic skills. What could be better than the circus for a gymnast who had never specialised but who loved floor work, the parallel bars, the trampoline and aerial work?
So what's the difference between circus and gym? Nowadays, it's about making meaning through theatre. It's called "new circus" and Circus Oz is the innovator and the continuing example in the Australian tradition. In France, nouveau cirque comprises 500 companies and 250 schools. In Italy the scene is similar. And in Canada and in .... In March this year, NICA hosted the Cirque du Monde's Social Circus Instructor's Program. Participants came from Thailand, Singapore, Hong Kong, Mongolia and Broken Hill to join with local Melbourne people to "share their experiences of working through circus with young people defined as being at risk". The program is currently taught in Montreal, Brussels, Rio de Janeiro, Santiago and Cape Town. So new circus is not just about entertaining people by twirling yourself and other things around in space.
In a recent industry forum, chaired by Pam Creed, director of NICA, Geoff Dunstan of Dislocate Circus explained "I feel it's really important in physical theatre, especially new circus theatre - and I think this is the greatest hurdle that we have to get over - is the ego of the acrobatic act itself. The trick can be fantastic, but it doesn't necessarily have to be the show, you have to leave that [the ego] aside." He also described a "great piece of theatre I saw was on the news, with a bunch of uranium cans with people - protestors - jumping inside them through one of the gates [of Lucas Heights nuclear reactor]. The message was 'if you are a terrorist you can walk into this place', the form was protest and the medium was the media ... and I think it is really important that we don't limit ourselves in terms of where we can go in our theatrical expression."
So this is why Christian Reid works 40 hours in class each week, plus doing bar work and gym coaching despite the physically tiring days - and he still claims to have a social life. In vacations he returns to Canberra for a break in the gym to keep up his fitness and strength. Classes are not just in circus tricks, but include clowning, character work, ballet, modern dance as well as business administration. And that's not mentioning helping set up the Big Top for Ashton's traditional family circus. As Becky Ashton said: "It's not a job where you turn up and
perform and that's it. I'm a trapeze artist for three minutes each night and the rest of the time I do everything from filling show bags to putting up the tent."
NICA is now calling for applications for the 2003 BCA course, which incorporates a Certificate IV in Circus Arts and a Diploma of Circus Arts. The NICA team, led by the Head of Circus Training, Lu Guang Rong, originally from Shanghai, will conduct auditions in Sydney on September 26 and Melbourne on October 13, travelling to Brisbane, Darwin, Perth, Adelaide and Hobart in between.
If you want to see NICA in action in early December, call in to Melbourne's Federation Square. Marketing Manager Stan Liacos says NICA offers "exactly the kind of innovative, cutting-edge performances we need to help us activate Federation Square." You can find all the details you need at www.nica.swin.edu.au.
© Frank McKone M.A., F.A.C.E.
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