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Grace Llanwarne reaches new heights with tightwire apparatus

Grace Llanwarne turned to the circus and aerial performances for her masterwork as a third-year student in NIDA’s Bachelor of Fine Arts (Staging).

Above: Scene from Cirque du Soleil  KURIOS. Photo: Martin Girard, costume Philippe Guillotel.

Grace Llanwarne has always loved the circus and aerial performances that defy death and gravity. When she began working on her masterwork as a third-year student in NIDA’s Bachelor of Fine Arts (Staging) it was natural that she turned to the circus industry for her creative vision.

The result is a stunning portable tightwire apparatus that can be used for classic ‘tightrope’ acts in a circus. ‘Except that it’s not rope,’ says Grace. ‘It’s a high-tension steel wire. I wanted to create something that could be transported by a circus troupe that they can use on tour.’

Grace says she has always been interested in tension lines. ‘I was inspired by Philip Astley, the creator of the modern circus, godfather of the circus genre, who used tightrope acts in his shows. To create the apparatus, I had to research how to build and engineer something that can take a huge amount of tension, so I made a structure that can take about 14 tons of tension at any given point. It had to be self-contained as well.’

Grace's masterwork is currently being exhibited at EXPONIDA. Head of Scenic Construction and Technologies Nick Day says that NIDA is always keeping up with changes in the performing arts industry, and changes in circus entertainment is no exception.

‘The Scenic Construction and Technologies course at NIDA teaches a broad range of skills through both practical course work and production scenarios,’ said Nick. ‘The Ancient Greeks flew performers so fascination with this has always been part of the craft.

‘The current desire to stage film-like effects and the new technologies entering the industry have only added to the sophistication and complexity of what audiences expect. Over the years we’ve had engagements with NICA, Legs On The Wall and other physical theatre practitioners that give the students the opportunity to work with rigging for aerial performance.’

Grace has been seconded to one of the largest contemporary circus producers in the world, Cirque du Soleil, as a rigging intern on the show Kurios, Cabinet of Curiosities.  From a humble street theatre beginning in Quebec, with entertainers on stilts, juggling, dancing, breathing fire, and playing music, its theatrical, character-driven approach is world renown for its high quality, intensely artistic productions. With flying performers, trapeze artists, acrobatics, flying furniture, trampoline artists and more, Grace says she is ecstatic to be working in the company.

‘One thing I have really learnt at NIDA that it never hurts to ask people and reach out. The worst that can happen is that someone can say no! I asked Cirque if there was a secondment available and they said yes. Now I am working on their big top show at the Entertainment Quarter in Moore Park.’

Grace is planning a break over Christmas, looking forward to work as a mechanist on shows next year and hopes to be working in the circus industry moving forward. ‘It’s hard to express in a nutshell what I will take away from NIDA – I’ve learnt so much in the last three years. As well as the huge amount of technical knowledge, NIDA has taught me how to handle myself and other people, how to manage stress and keep afloat when it’s crunch time. I’ve really learnt a lot about resilience and confidence. Mostly I would say that I have learnt how I want to operate into the entertainment industry.

‘At Cirque du Soleil I feel very much at home on the show. It feels like I have already been there for a long time. The rigging team are teaching me so much and are really generous with their time. As I already have the Australian qualifications needed in rigging, I am legally cleared to work as part of the team. It’s incredible and I’m loving every minute.’

Feeling inspired? For information about NIDA’s courses, see 2019 is now showing until 14 December at NIDA’s Kensington campus, 215 Anzac Parade, Kensington NSW 2033 from Monday to Friday 9-5pm. Entry is free.

Note: For 2020 enrolments, NIDA Bachelor of Fine Arts (Staging) is now called Bachelor of Fine Arts (Scenic Construction and Technologies)

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