Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The New Victory, Australia and the Performing Arts

When most people think of Australia, they think of kangaroos and crocodile hunters; vegemite and boomerangs; dingoes and didgeridoos; the Great Barrier Reef and the outback; “G’day, mate!” and “shrimp on the barbie.” But, we celebrate another side of the land “Down Under.” When we think of Australia, we think of Flying Fruit Flies and tragical boys made of cheese; prehistoric carnivores and Bluegrass music, pigs, bears and billy goats gruff; tap dancers, beat boxers and terrible plops! And, while we still think of kangaroos, ours are bright red and fly on the trapeze. 

This odd assortment of elements comes from some of the 19 fantastic Australian productions (with three more coming up later this season!) that The New Victory Theater is proud to have brought to the family audiences of New York City. Since the first Aussie presentation (Circus Oz) at The New Victory Theater in 1997, we have continuously mined Australia’s artistic wealth, discovering an endless array of productions–from a wide range of artistic genres, including theater, circus, puppetry, music and dance–each chock full of artistry, integrity and unique Aussie charm.

With Circus Oz in the house this month and the presentation of the New Victory Arts Award to the Australian Council for the Arts at our Gala this week, we thought it would be fun to take a moment and share a few of the interesting things that we’ve learned over the years about Australian performing arts:

1. Australians are big into circus. 

The New Victory shares this passion for circus arts and it is one of the reasons that we have been consistently thrilled to present Circus Oz (this is their fifth appearance at The New Victory!) and other Aussie circuses.

Known as a country filled with outdoorsy, athletic people, it’s no surprise that Australia has a robust contemporary circus scene. They even have a National Institute of Circus Arts (NICA) whose mission is “to deliver innovative training programs to talented students, whose performances will re-imagine circus. As the only training institution of its kind in Australia, NICA fosters passion, creativity and a high level of skill in its graduates who are recognized as inspiring circus artists.”

Many of the talented performers who have appeared in the presentations of Circus Oz or Circa’s 46 Circus Acts in 45 Minutes (2009-10) at the New Victory have been graduates of NICA. Some of these artists were also student performers with the Flying Fruit Fly Circus, Australia’s only full time circus training institution for children. In fact, Shane, Luke and Flip, who are currently performing in Circus Oz’s From the Ground Up, also performed on the New Victory stage in 1999-2000 with the Flying Fruit Flies when they were teenagers!

2. Some Australian artists mix circus with other performing arts. You may have also noticed that a lot of the non-circus Australian companies that have played on the New Victory stage have incorporated acrobatics, clowning and other physical theater elements into their productions. For example, Blue Grassy Knoll (2001-02) mixed silent Buster Keaton films with blue grass music. The New York Times described Wake Baby by Reckless Moments theater company (1998-99) as “Compounded of acrobatics, mime, puppetry, atmospheric music and lighting and plenty of the sort of theatrical magic that is the product of thoughtfulness and experience."

Raw Metal Dance’s Untapped! (2011-12) combined tap dance, live rock music, skinny jeans and flip flops (or “thongs” as they are called in Oz) to great effect, while Tom Tom Crew (2008-09) brought a mash-up of acrobatics, beatboxing, drumming and youthful ridiculousness that could really only be called “daredevil theater.” And then there are the hilarious Umbilical Brothers (and their creepy clown-faced roadie) whose one-of-a-kind comedy styling, uniting mime with sound (genius!), simply defies definition.

3. Australian artists take theater for young audiences very seriously. With companies like Windmill Theatre (Twinkle Twinkle Little Fish, 2002-03, Plop!, 2011-12, and the upcoming Grug) Patch Theatre Company (Pigs, Bears and Billy Goats Gruff, 2007-08) Slingsby (The Tragical Life of Cheeseboy, 2010-11), Zeal Theatre Company (The Stones, 2005-06), Erth (Dinosaur Zoo in 2013) and others dedicated to making sophisticated, entertaining and beautifully designed productions specifically for young audiences, Australia has certainly made its mark on the world’s Theater for Young Audiences community. In addition, internationally renowned, award-winning adult companies like Belvoir (The Book of Everything, 2011-12), are now adding productions for family audiences to their seasons. 

4. The Australia Council for the Arts shares its country’s performing arts with the world. The Australian Government’s arts funding and advisory body, The Australia Council for the Arts, “collaborates to build new audiences, foster philanthropic support and deepen understanding of the arts through research,” delivering more than $160 million in funding for arts organizations and individual artists across Australia each year.

The Australia Council for the Arts makes it easier for international presenters–like The New Victory Theater–to travel to the remote continent to attend festivals and the Australian Performing Arts Market, where one can experience the work of a wide variety of Australian performing artists in a short span of time. They are also very proactive about exporting the work of Australian artists and supporting tours of Australian performing arts companies, so that venues around the world can bring this amazing work to their home audiences. The Council has helped make it possible for performing arts companies, both large and small, to travel almost 10,000 miles from Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide and even a town called Albury Wodonga, to perform on the New Vic stage.

5. The Australia Council deserves an award! It is the extensive support of The Australia Council for the Arts that makes so much of this great performing arts work for young audiences possible–which is why we are thrilled to be presenting The Australia Council for the Arts with the New Victory Arts Award at this year’s New 42nd Street Gala event on December 5, 2012. The Australia Council for the Arts will be honored for its active encouragement and fostering of the creation of world class, compelling and creative works suitable for young audiences–it is through the Council’s exemplary work to promote and support the touring of Australian performing arts that these pieces are seen by audiences around the globe.

Who knows what exciting productions from “Down Under” will grace the New Victory stage in years to come and what interesting new things we’ll learn. But, it is pretty clear that this exciting friendship between the New Vic and the wide world of Australian performing arts has many more wonderful things in store.

This blog was written by Carrie Dubois, Assistant Director of Programming

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