The Flying Fruit Fly Circus
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The Flying Fruit Fly Circus is Australia's national youth circus and the only full-time circus school in Australia. It is on the Murray River in the twin cities of Albury-Wodonga on the Victoria/New South Wales border. In partnership with the Victorian Department of Education, the students/young artists in years 3-9 attend the selective entry Flying Fruit Fly Circus School where they undertake educational studies to complement their circus training, which is uniquely incorporated into the curriculum. The Flying Fruit Fly Circus regularly performs in Australia and internationally at major arts centres, regional theatres, corporate events and festivals.
The Flying Fruit Fly Circus was one of the productions of the Murray River Performing Group, initially an ensemble of nine artists, set up mostly by graduates the Victorian College of the Arts Drama School, including Robert "Bomber" Perrier, who was the artistic director from the outset, Lloyd Suttor, Mark Shirrefs and Ian Mortimer (Mort). The group began full-time operations in 1979, the International Year of the Child. Within four months the group had conducted workshops and performed in over forty venues, written two shows, performed street theatre directed by Mort, organised 171 circus training sessions and produced the first Flying Fruit Fly Circus event involving 117 performers aged from seven to seventeen. Mark Shirrefs and Ian Mortimer went to local schools and introduced skills to local kids, some of whom are still active in circus, Michael Ling has spent 18 years with Circus Oz.
In 1979 On the Outside, a show about unemployed youth, was designed as a full-scale theatrical performance for high school. Lloyd Sutler, the Murray River Performing Group's resident writer, wrote the script. Performed inside an octagon made of three-inch agricultural piping on a big yellow mat, the show involved a mixture of naturalism, Brecht and satire.
In the same year Heap, written by Mark Shirrefs was performed by Mark, Boris Conley, Mort for the upper three grades of Primary School. Lloyd Sutter and Mark Shirrefs also worked with local writers Dotty Simmons and Barbara Connyngham. Three of the pieces developed by this work were produced in 1979 and 1980.
Mort continued teaching a small group in the craft of street theatre as sidewalk circus, these included Michael Ling, Mark Barlow (Strauss) Cathy and Herby, and many others. Once the kids had been introduced to Circus as a valid profession they did not want to stop.
Pixi and Jim Robertson who had been traditional circus performers and founding members of Circus Oz—and teachers for the first Fruit Fly Circus event—stayed on as teaching staff and invited Micky Ashton of Ashtons Circus to join them. Micky stayed until the end of his long life.
The second annual Flying Fruit Fly Circus event, in 1980, was seen by Chris Brookes, a Canadian playwright who visited at the suggestion of the Community Arts Board of the Australia Council. He suggested taking the Circus to the Vancouver Children's Festival in 1981. At that time the administration of the group was carried out by a core of five people with John Paxinos coming in as administrator. There was a performing group, responsible for writing and performing pieces for set venues. The next group was the clown group headed by Mort, for community involvement, instant theatre and schools. Finally, there was the semi-autonomous Flying Fruit Fly Circus. The Flying Fruit Fly Circus was the most durable of the activities and has sustained to the present day.
Following the successful Canada event at the Vancouver Children's Festival in 1981 there were successful seasons in Melbourne, Albury and Benalla. Tanya Lester won a Gold Medallion in Le Cirque de Demain Competition in Paris. In 1982 she was the recipient of the ‘Young Australian of the Year’ title.
In 1982 the Nanjing Acrobatic Troupe of China undertook a training project in Albury Wodonga with Flying Fruit Fly Circus performers, Circus Oz and other physical theatre artists. The outcome was the show The Great Leap Forward.
In 1983 the Fruit Fly Circus hosted six acrobats from the Nanjing Acrobatic Troupe of China. This project, known as Nanjing 1, the initiative of Carrillo Gantner, then Cultural Attaché to the Australian Embassy in China, took place over three months. Fruit Fly Circus students learnt alongside professional artists including performers from Circus Oz. The group Legs On the Wall was influenced by this project. Lu Guong Rong, a Chinese performer at the height of his powers when he came to Australia for the project, stayed in Australia and has an influential, although conservative, teacher of Australian circus since.
In 1984 on behalf of the company, artistic director Robert "Bomber" Perrier won the BHP Pursuit of Excellence Award in Arts and Literature.
In 1989-90, after 10 years of operation, Flying Fruit Fly Circus performed at the Sydney Festival, the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, Geelong Performing Arts Centre and were invited to join the nationwide tour of the Great Moscow Circus. The Flying Fruit Fly Circus represented Australia at Australia Week in Veneto, Italy and were awarded the Ros Bower Award for Outstanding Contribution to Community Arts.
In 1993 a sell-out season of Red Alert for the Sydney Festival (and half-time entertainment for the World Series Cricket) was followed by tours to Brisbane, Gippsland and Melbourne. In 1997 the Flying Fruit Fly Circus performed at the Melbourne Summer Live concert, the Fashion Spectacular and Moomba. In 1999 the Circus Festival transferred from its usual base in Tasmania to Albury Wodonga, where Flying Fruit Fly Circus's Outburst! performed. The Gift opened in New York, selling out a five-week season over Christmas New Year.
In 2009, 30 years on, Flying Fruit Fly Circus performed The Promise at the Sydney Festival and Albury. Federal Minister Peter Garrett announced $3.75m government contribution to redevelop Flying Fruit Fly Circus training space.
In 2010 a major touring exhibition Step Right Up! The Circus in Australian Art developed through a partnership between Albury City and the Flying Fruit Fly Circus toured nationally from early 2010 through to January 2011 at venues including Mosman Art Gallery, Horsham Art Gallery, Port Pirie Regional Art Gallery, Bunbury Regional Art Gallery and Lake Macquarie City Art Gallery. The exhibition featured paintings, drawings, photographs, sketchbooks, prints and sculptures by Tom Alberts, David Archer, Monique Auricchio, George Baldessin, Dorrit Black, John Brack, Robert Campbell, Margaret Cilento, Ray Cook, Robert Dickerson, Vincent Drane, Graeme Drendel, Ian Fairweather, Cedric Flower, Donald Friend, Joe Furlonger, James Guppy, Ponch Hawkes, Euan Heng, Petrina Hicks, Lorraine Jenyns, Warren Langley, Nerissa Lea, Michael Leunig, Stewart MacFarlane, Noel McKenna, Kevin Mortensen, John Olsen, Alexander Seton, Andrew Sibley, Jeffrey Smart, David Strachan, Albert Tucker, Ken Whisson, Arthur Wicks, Fred Williams, Anne Zahalka and Salvatore Zofrea.
In its 30+ year history the company has toured internationally to Japan, Canada, Hawaii, Singapore, New Zealand, Italy, China, the UK and the US. In Australia the circus regularly performs at festivals including the Melbourne Festival, Melbourne International Comedy Festival and Sydney Festival. Special appearances include the 2000 Sydney Olympics Opening Ceremony and Cultural Festival and the closing Ceremony of the XVIII Melbourne Commonwealth Games in 2006. The Flying Fruit Fly Circus is currently the resident youth circus at Sydney Opera House and has an ongoing partnership with the Arts Centre Melbourne and other key performing arts venues around Australia.
In 2014 the company celebrated 35 years with sell-out seasons at Sydney Opera House, Melbourne International Comedy Festival, a major nine-week tour to VIC, NSW and QLD, performances and workshops at the Barunga Festival in NT and Lorne Festival in VIC and a re-connection with the landmark cultural exchange that changed the face of contemporary circus in Australia, Nanjing Project III, in a collaboration with NICA and the Melbourne Festival. A new weekend festival of circus and theatre was launched, BORDERVILLE, to celebrate the legacy of the Flying Fruit Fly Circus and neighbours HotHouse Theatre and the region's culture.
In 2015 it became a company in residence at Sydney Opera House with a three-year partnership and established a collaboration with the Vietnam School of Circus Arts and Vaudeville in Hanoi. It also travelled to Turkey for a two-week engagement in Istanbul as part of the Australia in Turkey Festival.
Awards and nominations
- 2014 Sydney Theatre Award nomination for Best Production for Children (Circus Under My Bed)
- 2014 Helpmann Award nomination for Best Visual or Physical Theatre Production (Circus Under My Bed)
- 2009 Helpmann Award for Best Presentation for Children (The Promise)
- 2008 APACA Drover’s Award for Tour Management Excellence.
- 1990 Ros Bower Memorial Community Arts Award.
- 1986 BHP Pursuit of Excellence Award for Arts & Literature.
- 1985 Logie Award (Nanjing 1 Documentary).
- 1982 Gold Medallion in Le Cirque de Demain Competition (France).
The Flying Fruit Fly Circus provides a Circus Arts program for kids of varying ages and abilities. Kids with aspirations of becoming a “Fruit Fly” may join the Circus Skills Selection Group, a more intensive class designed to prepare performers for possible selection into The Flying Fruit Fly Circus and School. A range of shows includes Fireproof where the newest and youngest members ages 8–14 years are seen in their first ever performance where they show off their newly required circus skills of acrobatics, theatrics, manipulation, pyramids & aerial spectaculars.
The Flying Fruit Fly Circus School was established in 1987 as the educational arm of the Flying Fruit Fly Circus. The school is guided by policy frameworks of the Victorian Department of Education with a special focus on circus and performing arts. After being destroyed by fire in 2003, the new purpose built school was opened in 2006 as part of the Wodonga Middle Years College, in conjunction with Huon and Felltimber campuses.
- Circus in Australia at the Australian culture and recreation portal | http://www.cultureandrecreation.gov.au/articles/circus/
- Perrier, Robert, Finding an Audience: The Murray River Performing Group, Meanjin, Vol. 41, No. 1, Apr 1982: 29-38
- Step Right Up! The Circus in Australian Art | http://www.alburycity.nsw.gov.au/resources/documents/Step_Right_Up_catalogue_FOR_FINAL_APPROVAL.pdf
- Flying Fruit Fly Circus web site | http://www.fruitflycircus.com.au/about-us
- Tahlia McPherson, (21 October 2014), Fruit Flies plan Vietnam exchange in international first, Border Mail, Albury-Wodonga
- Flying Fruit Fly Circus School | http://www.fruitflyschool.vic.edu.au/history.htm