Stories from the heart

Knee Deep is the premiere work of Casus, an Australian chamber circus troupe. Photos: Supplied
Knee Deep is the premiere work of Casus, an Australian chamber circus troupe. Photos: Supplied
Stories from the heart drive the founders of Australian circus group Casus. New Zealand-born performer Natano Fa’anana tells Rebecca Fox about connecting and strength.

It is everyday life for Casus' acrobats to be doing ''crazy high-end'' tricks, throwing people around, hanging from the air and clambering over each other seamlessly.

Natano Fa'anana
Natano Fa'anana
''Yet we do this with a genuine love and care for each other,'' co-founder and creative producer Natano Fa'anana says.

The Lower Hutt-born Samoan performer has an injury at present so will not be performing in Dunedin, but it has not dimmed his passion for Knee Deep.

''My circus background is I started at age 30 and am what I like to say ''backyard trained''; learning from others, rather than a school.''

Knee Deep is Casus' first production and it looks at strength and fragility, but came about almost by accident.

The performers tell the story by standing, playing and dancing on each other ''as well as on eggs''.

''Two of us are nursing injuries - neck and shoulder.

''One of the highlights is that the choreography we created to avoid these injuries became a feature.''

That process showed the group that ''set backs'' can be opportunities.

Despite the show being performed in 18 countries in the past two years, Fa'anana says there are still many moments that move him.

''The four-person trapeze act still gives me goosebumps.''

While the athleticism and physical feats of the Brisbane-based group amazes the audience, it is the stories they tell that are at the heart of the Casus, he says.

''At the core of our company is a richness and integrity that surpasses these physical feats.

''We have this ability to connect to the audience ... in a sense sending the message through movement that, although we are elite athletes, we are one and the same.''

That is not to say they don't push the boundaries of skill and physicality. Each member of the team is responsible for maintaining their fitness and strength as they re-assemble only a week before the opening of a new season or tour.

Each venue presents its own challenges but they simply made it work.

On Moorea, near Tahiti, they performed a ground version - no aerial - outdoors under the stars.

''It was pretty spectacular, actually. We would like all our shows to be adaptable so to ensure they are accessible.''

Fa'anana says they use the ''power of the arts'' to create positive conversation for change.

For Casus, that means creating works with diversity with diverse performers - the majority of its 16 acrobats are ''artists of colour'', a first, he says, for Australia's circus arts industry.

The group recently toured Australia's first all indigenous circus show, Chasing Smoke, at the Darwin Festival and then at Edinburgh the group recently performed You and I, a story about the love of two men told through contemporary circus.

''It is winning praise and just earned a nomination for Best Circus for Total Theatre Award.

''These themes and stories are what drive the three co-directors - stories from the heart.''

Stories that requires the acrobat to be ''an artist at heart''.

''Care for the message behind the story of that particular show is important.''

Casus also requires its acrobats to be down to earth.

''We have a saying at Casus - the 23 hours outside that one-hour show are more important.

''A bond and strong relationship between cast members is key for our company.''

Three of the four original co-directors are still in the company - Fa'anana, Jesse Scott and Lachlan McAulay.

All of the physical work required for the acts means injury is a constant, so injury prevention is always at the forefront of their minds.

They also work on maintaining the ''sincerity and rawness'' of the performance.

''This is done by simply hanging out. Big cook ups together. Checking in on each other. Generally sharing the love.''

Audiences in different countries react differently to their work, he says.

''Germany barely clap throughout, but then jump to their feet at the end demanding four encores. The French [are] similar, but their encores much louder and longer. New Zealand is one of my favourites, loud hollas all the way through, ''Chur bro!'' and ''Choice!'' Just like home for me.''

To see
Knee Deep, Casus, Mayfair Theatre, September 21-23, 7.30pm.

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