Avan Whaite, performer, Undertone

The physical capacity of the people you're working with means that you can really bring some unreal scenes to life ...

It takes a special kind of determination to be a circus performer – a certain spark that lingers long after the days of schoolyard monkey bars and backyard trampolines. For Avan Whaite, becoming a physical performance artist required years of training and discipline, but it’s safe to say that the feats of strength and dexterity that he can pull off are nothing short of amazing. Despite his accomplishments to date, it seems like Avan isn’t content to stun audiences with such displays, as evidenced with his new show Undertone. As a performer and director of the Undertone, Avan has been able to showcase circus performance in a new way, combining choreography with technology to create something unique and engaging. Undertone is being staged at the Brisbane Powerhouse as part of Wonderland, but before Avan suits up for the shows, we threw a few questions his way to get a better idea of what to expect.

First of all, can you tell us where your love of circus came from?
Circus is a multi-faceted beast and the things I love about it have changed a lot over the years. I think originally it was a love of adrenaline ­– combined with a desire to understand how things work – that drew me to it.

Obviously forging a career in the acrobatic arts isn’t as simple as running away to join the circus – can you tell us what it took to get into this line of work?
Well, obviously there is a lot of physical and mental discipline that goes into acquiring the necessary skills. But there is also a lot of self-reflection, continual learning, and personal and financial risk.

You’ll be bringing your acclaimed show Undertone to Brisbane Powerhouse for Wonderland – what can you tell us about the show’s concept?
Undertone is a bit of a surreal joy ride. We have a great group of artists with really excellent stage chemistry and we show a range of scenes that use sound technologies in different ways. Some feature elite acrobatics, some feature dance, and some are comedic interludes.

There’s a technological element involved in Undertone – how does it manifest itself in the show?
For Undertone we teamed up with Zoltan Fecso, who’s something of an electronic music guru. He’s made his own original instruments in the past so when he came on for this project we discussed a lot of different ways we could integrate sound into live physical performance. Without giving too much away, we’ve put a lot of interactive content into the show!

The show takes traditional circus performances and puts it in unconventional contexts – what sort of unconventional scenarios are we talking about here?
Well, there’s a bit of ping-pong in Undertone! That’s an unconventional scenario that we use for circus, but in general we’ve taken some acts that are traditionally presented in a slapstick or grandiose fashion, and created an urban, contemporary interpretation.

How does one conceive the choreography ideas for a show with such mind-blowing feats of strength and teamwork?
Circus as a medium is both limiting and liberating. There are many creative restrictions because the skills are – by nature – precise and have to be done a certain way. If you want to have a theatrical context then the tricks can easily seem unnecessary. At the same time, the physical capacity of the people you’re working with means that you can really bring some unreal scenes to life. Choreographing for circus is a challenge and a joy.

Be honest – how many bruises did you and the rest of the team accumulate during the creation and rehearsal of the show?
No one died. I stand by that.

What are some words of wisdom that you live by?
The more it hurts, the more you smile.

You can catch the magic of Undertone at the Brisbane Powerhouse as part of Wonderland from November 24–27. Purchase your tickets here


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