Australia’s only Indigenous circus ensemble is challenging any perceived boundaries of the genre with the groundbreaking production Chasing Smoke. Nance Haxton talks to director Natano Fa'anana behind the scenes at Woodford Folk Festival:

Australia’s own Casus Circus is touring Australia and later this year will cross the ocean to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival with Chasing SmokeThe evocative and triumphant performance was one of the stand-out performances of this year’s Woodford Folk Festival, in an exceptionally crowded program.

We are not percentages. We are Aboriginal.

The conflicting and often harrowing journey of Aboriginal people with pale skin is laid bare through humour satire and modern dance, mixing playfully with incredibly challenging physicality and stunts. The most gut-wrenching moments in this hour long feast of momentum are when the cast open up, in their own words, about their personal journeys and discovering their Aboriginality.

Image courtesy of Dylan Crawford

Cast member Lara Croydon sums up the show in her final monologue,

“We are black, brown and beige, but we are undeniably Aboriginal and proud. There is no such thing as fractions.

“We are not half blood; we are not part blood; we are not mud blood, quadroon, octoroon. We are not percentages. We are Aboriginal.

“And we are also English, Irish, Scottish, Samoan, Vanuatuan, Solomon Islander, Hungarian Jew, Maori, and we are proud of that too. And for many of us, our families came together out of love. The power to choose should never be taken from anyone.”

I wanted to make a show that reflects the six individuals. I want it to be about them.

Director Natano Fa’anana didn’t start his circus career until relatively late in life, at the age of 30. But in the ten years since, he has helped enable works like Chasing Smoke come to reality,

“I’m really quite proud of this world, proud of the performers and I’m excited about the reactions we’re getting as a result. Packed houses and standing ovations, lots of beautiful feedback, people moved.

“Being an all Indigenous cast, it was important for us to discuss some issues and topics, things that all the performers feel they need to discuss.”

Casus Circus Chasing Smoke

Image courtesy of Dylan Crawford

While Casus Circus is a small ensemble, they are punching above their weight, according to Natano,

“We’re a little company but we’ve got kick, we’ve got grunt. we want to make work that reflects the times, reflects the commentary that is often discussed amongst our circles in Australia.

“Basically I wanted to make a show that reflects the six individuals. I want it to be about them.

“We’re trying to not alienate any of our white friends – we’ve all got white friends and family. We don’t like to point. What we like to do is acknowledge some of the travesties of the past so we don’t repeat them. But at the end of the day we love them and we want a positive future.”

Casus Circus Chasing Smoke

Image courtesy of Dylan Crawford

At the end of the show, the cast hands out lamingtons, the famous Australian chocolate coated coconut cake, explaining the context as: “the sponge cake is our history, our chocolate goodness is our blackfella stories, the coconut sprinkles are our white families and if you cut deep enough we all bleed the same jam.”

The subject matter has been confronting for some,

“The government was responsible for trying to breed out Aboriginal people, and some people just didn’t even know that. But it happened,” Natano comments. “We don’t want to alienate our audiences, what we want to do is educate and inform. Gift them with individual stories, also just tell them `this is the plight’. It’s not about placing blame, but just so you know and if possible help.”

He says excitement for the show is building the more they tour, and will hopefully culminate with their trip to Edinburgh Fringe in August this year where he says “there’s a great interest”.

Chasing Smoke plays at the Adelaide Fringe Festival from 15 February – 3 March 2019 and the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in August 2019. For more information or to buy tickets, please visit the company website.