Natano Fa’anana, Casus co-creator and performer, Knee Deep

I do this because I love art, I love circus and I’m a story teller. Creating shows is my outlet ...

Did you ever dream about running away to join the circus? These days it’s not as simple as packing a duffel bag and jumping on the travelling caravan, but it’s still possible – just ask Natano Fa’anana. At the age of 30 Natano decided to actively pursue a career in the performing arts and soon after was creating and starring in his own productions. As part of Casus Circus, Natano performs in Knee Deep, a physically intensive show that has wowed audiences across Australia and overseas. Four performers showcase feats of strength and agility – pushing the limits of what their bodies can accomplish. Knee Deep is set to his the stage at the Judith Wright Centre in late February – we caught Natano during a quiet moment on Knee Deep’s European tour to ask him a few questions ahead of the Brisbane shows.

First of all, we’d love to know what it was that first drew you towards performance?
As Samoans we are encouraged to sing and dance our old music from the islands. At a family function, a wedding or a traditional ceremonies or even funerals we sing or dance to celebrate or acknowledge that particular event. This remains part of you where ever you are and this is a driving force for my performance and creating process.

It wasn’t until you turned 30 that you decided to actively pursue a career as a performer. What instigated the change and inspired you to perform full time?
My brother Fez and brother in-law Mark Winmill played a big part in steering me towards the stage. In short, they said I had the physique of an acrobat and the kookiness of a clown, likened to a black Charlie Chaplin. So they sent me a flyer to try trapeze classes in Sydney where I lived at the time. A year and a half later I packed my car and ran away with the circus.

What drew all the members of Casus together and inspired the creation of the ensemble?
Four years ago Jesse Scott, Lachlan McAulay, Emma Serjeant and I decided to make a show. At the time Emma and Jesse were performing with Circa another amazing Brisbane based circus company, Lachy was in Brisbane teaching and I was in Scotland with my then company Briefs. We thought, what would happen if we were to create something together fusing these different influences and experiences – hence the birth of Knee Deep. Since then Emma has moved on to form her own company and Casus has grown double in size and the essence of Knee Deep still remains. The new performers are talented artists who understand the true nature of Knee Deep just like the original four creators.

What can you tell us about Knee Deep? What will people experience throughout the show?
We explore strength and fragility demonstrating the different variations of this theme through acrobatics…. and eggs.

Right! About the eggs – Knee Deep incorporates them throughout the show, what inspired the egg motif and what does it signify?
Jesse recalls growing up with a photo on his fridge which shows his mother Mara sitting on the shoulders of Jesse’s father Rob, who is standing on two cartons of eggs. A dare Mr Lu – Jesse’s then circus trainer – had coerced them to do at Rob’s 40th birthday party. Using this photograph as inspiration we stumbled across the notion that eggs are as tough as they are fragile – much like humans.

Casus has been performing Knee Deep for a few years now – has the show changed much over the years? How do you go about refining and structuring a show such as this one?
I mentioned earlier we found performers who can execute the true nature of Knee Deep as well as the high circus skills. The process is difficult because these people are rare. We prefer not to employ just technically amazing circus performers because the human element, the sincerity, the individuality of the person performing Knee Deep needs to be present. So to date the two versions of Knee Deep have the same structure of the original show but will vary ever so slightly in terms of tricks and apparatuses i.e. instead of a hand-balance act you may see aerial ring instead. Same music but different because the individual performing it brings their own flavour.

We hear that you push the limits of the human body in Knee Deep – how physically intensive is the show? Is it a challenge keeping it up for a long run of shows?
To paint a real picture, I was off the stage for nine months due to me suffering three herniated discs in my neck sustained whilst on tour. But this is what we do – we experiment, play and challenge ourselves as artists. It’s just that instead of making our art on a canvas with a paintbrush we do it with our bodies – and eggs in Knee Deep’s case. In terms of long runs, we have taken measures to ensure we can keep performing Knee Deep into the future. We ask for a fifth performer to travel with us in the event one of us is injured and recently we embraced the word ‘no’. We have had to say no to some proposed touring or seasons simply because our bodies need care and maintenance.

You are currently touring the show across Europe – firstly, how have the shows been going and what’s the greatest thing about being able to perform in front of international audiences?
Amazing! In fact we performed two Knee Deeps simultaneous this year for the first time. We have a tour of Knee Deep in Australia and Europe of which I performed the latter. The European Knee Deep tour covered three countries – France, Netherlands and Belgium. A great thing about performing Knee Deep to international audiences is that you can pretty much guarantee the same reaction as you would a Brisbane audience. There is no speaking so it’s not language based.

On that note, what has been your career highlight to date?
That’s a tough question as almost all performances of Knee Deep feel like my premiere experience. I think performing Knee Deep on the small island of Raiatea in French Polynesia in front of so many islanders. Us islanders of the Pacific have a connection and I felt it pretty strongly that night.

What inspires you and motivates you in work and life?
I work a lot and some would say even too much. But I do this because I love art, I love circus and I’m a story teller. Creating shows is my outlet. There are way too many ideas, images, stories in my head and with Casus I am in a great position to take these from my head and put them on the stage.

Knee Deep: Casus will be staged at the Judith Wright Centre from February 18–20. Tickets are on sale now and can be purchased from the Judith Wright website.


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