‘Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport’ by Rolf Harris was the number one song in the 1960 Australian music charts. To many outside of the country – and in it – it has been clumsily representative of Australian culture for decades. Along with didgeridoos, cork hats and the institutionalised erasure of Indigenous culture, it’s part of a dated pastiche that is long overdue a shake-up. Trailblazing company Casus Circus present a new show that is unflinching in its quest to reclaim this culture in its myriad forms, giving Mr. Harris a good kicking in the process.
Chasing Smoke is performed by the country’s only Indigenous circus troupe. Tonight we have five of the listed six (Lara Croydon, Pearl Thompson, Dylan Singh, Harley Mann and Ally Humphris) and each is given the space to explore what it means, to them, to be Aboriginal today. And this is what makes the show excel: it is both deeply personal and fiercely uncompromising. There is no homogenising: individuality is celebrated. From light-hearted skits about commodifying palatable stereotypes, to a blistering costume-changing dance routine mocking the vapid identities foisted upon Australians, the show’s pacing is electric.
On a technical level, the circus skills are solid and competent (though Mann’s diabolo routine is near-flawless); perhaps not entirely novel, but that’s not the point here. This prodigal quintet are so fired up by the stories they’re telling – equal parts fun and poignant – that the energy is infectious. We’re on our feet by the end, moved by the invigorating bravery of reclaimed identities.