For centuries, circus has been one of the primary art forms of family entertainment. At this point, it is less about reinventing the wheel, than executing the beloved format and associated skills with precision. The Flying Femmes aims to honour traditional circus skills and props of the past whilst reconsidering cirque in a modern context. Not the least of these more modern circus focuses - an all female cast.
Fun for the whole family, the cast of Flying Femmes does well to engage even the youngest in the room, particularly through the inclusion of clowning as a narrative thread between the acts. Laura Oakley is perhaps the most accomplished of the group in the way of clowning and her inclusion of children in the show through clowning left some very large smiles on some very small peoples’ faces.
Wearing purple leotards, the four use a range of props to showcase different elements and tricks of circus skills. Regina Hegeman is up first with a hand-balancing act on handstand canes. Skilled and unquestionably strong, Hegeman completes some impressive contortions. It is hard to sit comfortably watching this act from my seat in the front row - a combination of understanding the complexity of the trick and danger of it, mixed with watching Hegeman’s strong concentration in trying to accomplish the tricks, left me feeling uneasy for her. Realistically, there was nothing to fear and despite her slender frame, Hegeman proved that she is a woman made of muscle as she balanced on those tall canes.
Katelyn Reed is our next soloist with a high rope performance that absolutely was a crowd pleaser! Reed’s speed and agility on the rope makes her a dynamic performer and despite the high stakes of her act, she looked graceful and charismatic throughout. Perhaps my favourite routine of the show, it was exciting to see the ‘flying’ aspect of the show’s title. Her control is masterful as she swings, twists and climbs her way around that rope.
Nicole Maisie has opportunity to show off two speciality skills in the form of chair balancing and aerial ring, both of which she does well. Certainly the ring was a more thrilling performance in my opinion but the inclusion of balance and of old-school chairs served the show’s ode to the past perfectly. Maisie impressed not just with her multi-skill demonstrations, but also with coolness with which she performed - she was measured and poised throughout.
Finally, Oakley’s solo performances included walking on glass bottles and finishing the show with a wonderful hula hoop routine that certainly had the kids’ eyes beaming.
I would be lying if I said that this was the most impressive circus show I’d ever seen - some of the tricks seem not to land every time, there are pointed toes missing here and there and for me, the talented women on stage are just too good to be lumped in the old fashioned oversized clown sacks. What the show does do well is celebrate the old-school fantasy of circus and bring this mystique to the next generation through committed and celebrated artists.
It is encouraging to see work like this as part of the New Zealand Fringe Festival in Wellington. This is a challenging art form to master that has unquestionably become less popular than it once was. It is inspiring to see it so well cared for in the hands of young women who are committed to restoring the treasured circus past and showcasing what women can do. They are muscly, toned, hard working and extremely talented - they are real women, who yes, sometimes fly.
I am not a huge circus fan normally but I am always going to be behind a performance like this that showcases exactly what women are capable of…anything they put their minds to!