From Pen­rose, with glam­our

Jane Mieka — Cir­cus per­former


At 18, Jane Mieka ran away from Christchurch and joined the cir­cus. And while she nabbed her­self an ap­pren­tice­ship out of it, the stint was never her plan. In fact, Mieka had been ac­cepted into Christchurch Poly­tech­nic In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy’s in­ter­na­tion­ally renowned Circo-Arts pro­gramme, which she was set to start at the be­gin­ning of 2011.

When the earth­quakes hit, the school was de­stroyed and Mieka was left won­der­ing what to do. Join­ing trav­el­ling com­pany Cir­cus Aotearoa was the next best bet. “I was re­ally lucky I got an ap­pren­tice­ship… I bonded re­ally in­tensely with the crew,” she says. “It was re­ally hard work, ac­tu­ally. There was a lot of mud, glit­ter and pop­corn.”

Now 24, Mieka is a mem­ber of Pen­rose-based cir­cus school The Dust Palace, where she bal­ances her own train­ing with be­ing a tu­tor. When I meet her, she’s be­tween re­hearsals for the school’s up­com­ing col­lab­o­ra­tion with the Auck­land Phil­har­mo­nia Or­ches­tra; the two, cir­cus and or­ches­tra, are com­ing to­gether to pro­duce the one-night-only fan­ta­sythemed ex­trav­a­ganza Mid­night.

Mieka, who is pri­mar­ily an aeri­al­silks and hula-hoop artist, takes on a range of roles in the show. “I am the hula-hoop fairy who’s kind of an evil char­ac­ter; I am a fairy on the um­brella [a metal ap­pa­ra­tus per­form­ers dance on] and I’m a hand-bal­anc­ing fairy on the ground, who is part of a story of two lovers who never get to meet,” she says.

Ac­tor Mike Ed­ward, who started The Dust Palace with wife Eve

Gor­don eight years ago, says the idea for Mid­night came from a cou­ple of suc­cess­ful col­lab­o­ra­tions be­tween the cir­cus school and the APO at Ro­torua’s Lake­side Con­cert.

“There’s a re­ally good syn­ergy be­tween classical mu­sic and cir­cus,” he says. “A lot of the APO’s au­di­ence will not have ever been our au­di­ence, so we’re mak­ing a show which we think will be beau­ti­ful and also highly com­mer­cial.”

Com­ple­ment­ing the show’s cir­cus el­e­ments is mu­sic from Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake, Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet and Men­delssohn’s A Mid­sum­mer Night’s Dream. “You will find a lot of bal­let mu­sic and ‘in­ci­den­tal’ mu­sic, as it lends it­self so well to move­ment on stage,” says Mid­night’s con­duc­tor, David Kay.

For Mieka, the afore­men­tioned glit­ter is just a small part of the job. The ev­ery­day re­al­ity is rig­or­ous train­ing that takes up to four hours each day, with only one rest day a week. Train­ing in­cludes weights, core work, Pi­lates and bal­let. “I do bal­let to sort out lines, which I think is re­ally im­por­tant,” she says. “There is that strong fo­cus on the form of the straight lines. It’s that thing of you have to make a line to break it. If you want to get arty and twisted, you have to also be able to be more classical, too.”

The Dust Palace is no cas­tle, ei­ther. In a set of shops on Great South Rd, the foyer hosts an ar­ray of mis­matched couches and opens up to a white room where the ac­tion hap­pens. Ap­pa­ra­tus such as silks, hoops and an un­usual metal cage, de­signed by Gor­don, hang from the ceil­ing in a sur­pris­ingly small and oth­er­wise drab space. The glitz and glam­our of per­for­mance come later.

For in­spi­ra­tion, Mieka looks to in­ter­na­tional cir­cus com­pa­nies such as Mon­treal col­lec­tive The 7 Fin­gers. “The artistry is so com­pelling and raw,” she says.

One day, she hopes to travel and bring new skills home with her. “I’d like to travel a bit and learn as far as phys­i­cal tech­nique goes, so I can bring it back to the New Zealand cir­cus com­mu­nity,” she says. “As with a lot of the arts, peo­ple are a bit be­hind the rest of the world.”

I was re­ally lucky I got an ap­pren­tice­ship [with trav­el­ling com­pany Cir­cus Aotearoa]. I bonded re­ally in­tensely with the crew. It was re­ally hard work, ac­tu­ally. There was a lot of mud, glit­ter and pop­corn.


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