Matt Hughes: I grew up in Albury, New South Wales. At the age of 14, I was enticed to join the Murray River Performing Group’s Flying Fruit Fly Circus, starting my career in circus.
In the early 80s, there was a desire to raise the skill level of contemporary circus in Australia. We looked to China as a world leader in acrobatics. In 1983, an international exchange created an opportunity for the fledgling contemporary circus community in Albury-Wodonga to train with six acrobats visiting from Nanjing.
The training, over three months, was intense, with long days and aching bodies. The Chinese acrobats where determined to impart the knowledge and skills that they had honed as an art form over centuries. Many of the skills learnt over the years from our Chinese colleagues, such as pole-climbing, hoop diving and group bike, continue to flavour Circus Oz’s shows today, albeit reinterpreted and presented in a distinctly Circus Oz style.
Now we have a university course, through the National Institute of Circus Arts, that trains new practitioners in the same skills brought to Australia by the Nanjing acrobats. It is difficult to overstate the magnitude of the gift China gave the Australian contemporary circus community.
Lu Guangrong: I was working for the Nanjing Acrobatic Troupe in the early 80s when we received an invitation to go to Australia. We performed on the first visit, and later returned to teach. These exchanges were highly successful in matching Chinese circus training and presentation methods with Australian imagination and creativity, to produce a new style of performance work which dramatically changed the face of circus in Australia.
Together we presented two new shows, The Great Leap Forward (1983-84) and The Circus of Tomorrow (1985-86).
While the Australians who participated in the exchanges talk about how much they learnt, it was an eye opening experience for me too. I was surprised by how much imagination and humour they put into circus.
I moved to Australia shortly after in 1987. Since then, I have been involved in many Australian circus projects, including designing and creating the Pole Act for the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games Opening Ceremony, orchestrating the Sydney Olympic Games Arts Festival, and playing a key role in shaping Australia’s National Institute of Circus Arts (NICA).
In 1999, NICA was established and I was appointed Head of Circus Studies. I saw an opportunity to integrate circus into the Australian education system and provide young people with a formal qualification. NICA now offers Australia’s only Bachelor of Circus Arts, which was the first circus degree to be recognised worldwide.
Today, Australian performing artists are in demand internationally and it’s fantastic to see some of our graduates engaged in shows in China.
Matt Hughes is Director of Programming at Circus Oz. Lu Guangrong is Director (International Engagement) and inaugural Head of Circus Studies at Australia’s National Institute of Circus Arts (NICA).