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.
MIDNIGHT, AOTEA CENTRE, NOVEMBER 23, APO.CO.NZ