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‘This show is a warning’: Circus teaches DV survivors how to fly

Circus in a Tea Cup is an hour-long contemporary circus performance held at QPAC’s Cremorne Theatre, which sees Vulcana Circus reconnect survivors of gender-based abuse with their bodies, with trust, and with play.

Dec 14, 2021, updated Dec 14, 2021
Practice for Circus in a Teacup (Image: Supplied)

Practice for Circus in a Teacup (Image: Supplied)

Run by Queensland’s longest-running women’s arts company, Vulcana Circus in partnership with Brisbane Domestic Violence Service, Circus in a Tea Cup tells the stories of women reclaiming their bodies.

Over the course of weeks, the performers gain experience in acrobatics and aerials, learning to find their strength in circus, and ultimately performing at QPAC.

Celia White, Director of Vulcana Circus, said the performers are survivors of gender-based violence, who have either emerged from or are emerging from those experiences.

“For this particular cohort, there is a lot of trust that has been broken,” said White.

“There’s a process of rebuilding that trust in yourself as well as how you can engage with other people and work collaboratively with other people, especially around bodies.

“A lot of us have fear around stepping on other bodies or having other bodies step on us, so it is really wonderful to break through that.

“Carving out this time is just so precious to some of the participants because it’s the only time they have to reconnect to themselves. To know that you’re alright, you are safe, and you have got support.”

Rehearsal for Circus in a Teacup (Image: Supplied)

White said the performance itself is a collaborative process, directed by White and Michelle Grant-Iramu, but choreographed with the performers over the course of weeks.

“We’ve used a vehicle of storytelling that gives you a sense of the kind of damage has been done to people through domestic abuse, but it’s not stated obviously.

“What we are doing is creating a unified front of energy and strength and vulnerability that speaks to what happens through this process.

“We are not there to get people to tell their personal stories, that’s their business and it also can be a very exhausting thing to be sharing your stories when you’re in the middle of it. But naturally pieces of these experiences begin to emerge.

“One of the performers said ‘I want this show to be a warning, I want the show to make people ask, ‘what do I need to do?’”

“We’re in the middle of the process at the moment. A real group has formed, a space for support has developed through the project. So that’s a major thing, which has got nothing to do with the project itself, but the process.

“So through that, there has been conversations, there has been friendships built, there’s been networks of support constructed. There’s been a sense of achievement in terms of learning new things. And then a sense of excitement and terror about performing on stage.”

White said reconnecting the performers with ideas of trust is a vital part of the process, learning to be in a space where people will catch you rather than let you fall.

Circus in a Tea Cup will perform three times at QPAC’s Cremorne Theatre (Image: Supplied)

“When we’re working with women in vulnerable situations it becomes a chance to reconnect them to the idea of play, that you’re allowed to play.

“You also have to navigate other bodies in the space. That’s where the acrobatics is particularly useful, you have to trust other people to hold you up. Through this you get to find where your strength is.”

Vulcana Circus, which takes its name from a British strong-woman who performed amazing feats of strength, has been involved in social programmes for its entire 26 year history.

“Women have been viewed historically in all kinds of ways that we have had no control over. So retrieving that voice is critical.

“We want our participants to have the right to say ‘I don’t want to talk about that at all, I just want to be fabulous’.

“There’s a realm of the arts which is always asking us to think about who is telling the story and where their privilege is.

“Vulcana Circus is a feminist community arts organisation and we wear that proudly. We want to investigate those power relationships and those inequities and do whatever we can to have fun with it and change it.”

Circus in a Tea Cup will be performed three times between 16 and 18th December at the Cremorne Theatre at QPAC. 

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