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Cirque Africa Wows Melbourne

Hands stinging? Check. Voice gone? Check. Neck and shoulders sore? Check. The results of a night spent clapping, cheering and tensing up as you wait with bated breath to see if the trick will turn out alright after all. And with Cirque Africa, it always does.

On Wednesday 24 June Cirque Africa performed for the first time in a big top, opening their Australian tour that is to last for the next three years.

Starting as an underground acrobatic school in Kinondoni, Tanzania, Cirque Africa has grown into the world travelling multicultural wonder that it is under the skilful hands of director and producer Winston Ruddle AKA Papa Africa. He is the first black African anywhere in the world to own, direct and produce a circus show in a big top circus tent.

A two man act at the start of the show had the audience gasping and holding their breath. Forget doing sit ups at the gym, one of these guys maintains his core strength by balancing the full weight of a grown man on his palm, while doing a crunch. I didn’t check to see if there were any gym junkies in the crowd, but I’m fairly sure they would have been crying.

This acrobat had probably had the best stage presence, drawing the audience into his act through sheer enthusiasm. As well as this spinning act with bowls representing countries that the performers belong to, this guy can also perform human pyramids at the drop of a hat.

No backing track CD for this show. The performers had a terrific live band to back them up and make the whole show feel more spontaneous as the musicians egged them on.

There's just something exciting about gathering in a big, well-lit tent to watch others do what you could never do with ten years practice, like a person sitting on the couch eating chips while watching sport.

Balance, coordination and sheer core strength seem to be the key ingredients for most circus acts and these athletic acrobats had it in spades.

Peering between our fingers clamped tightly over our eyes, we watched two contortionists' bodies twist in ways we were convinced had to be breaking bones. At one point I tried to count all the guy's ribs just to see if he hadn't had some removed. This mind-bending act is truly incredible and brings the whole show to another level.

Towards the end of the night, a young boy stole the show by an act with another performer who could have been an older brother. Their camaraderie was endearing as they turned tricks that defied the laws of physics, gravity and who knows what else.

It wouldn't be a circus without audience participation and Cirque Africa’s clown, using his whistle and his mime skills, got a few of the crowd out of their seats and comfort zones (and one even out of his shirt) to make an air band because the band on stage ‘refused’ to play for him.

In another act, a group of about ten guys swung from the ceiling, climbed 10 metre poles with one hand and formed human pyramids at the drop of a hat, working the crowd over with their charisma and skill.

Remember playing with hula hoops in the school yard? One of the acrobats played that game on steroids. She was able to spin up to ten hoops on various parts of her body at once—all while balancing on a massive ball. No big deal.

As well as all that, there was juggling of various items (including tables) and balancing acts that left you with fingernail prints in your palms. The dancers throughout the show were also incredible, showcasing African culture skilfully with their brightly coloured costumes and honed technique.

Cirque Africa is only at the Burnley Oval, Richmond, for a month before moving on so grab a coat (it’s chilly inside the big top this time of year) and book your ticket for ‘the greatest show from Africa’ today. You won’t regret it.