An interview with Eve Gordon, founder of New Zealand’s pre-eminent circus theatre company, THE DUST PALACE.
Eve Gordon is paving the way for the Auckland circus industry. Since its beginning in 2009, Dust Palace has been creating spectacular shows that have the capability to change lives. I sat down with Eve in order to grasp some of the passion behind the vision.
It all started when Eve was 12 and had the desire to become an actor. After coming out of Unitec with a degree in acting and an introduction to circus theatre, Eve started to work on her own projects. The first two shows she created under the umbrella name ‘The Dust Palace’ played in the fringe festival in 2009 and one was instantly asked back for another sell out season. With her partner Mike Edward she made the company a legal entity in 2010 and by 2012 they had opened a training facility and school, with classes and productions being offered to the rest of the Auckland public. Here’s the rest of her story…
What’s it like to run a circus?
“Fun! I’ve learnt so much about business on the fly. I’ve come to realise that to be an arts organisation, there are so many times you can’t comply to the normal business rules. I think it’s because the circus business is such a people orientated body. In order to get creative and really tell a story, people have to be comfortable and want to challenge themselves both physically and emotionally. My focus is always trying to give people what they need in order to shine the brightest they can. You definitely couldn’t be profit-driven. It just wouldn’t work.”
Does this business model have anything to do with being a performer yourself?
“There is no better feeling than performing and having the audience understand your message. You can feel the palpable connection between you and the audience. Ultimately that’s the goal. As a business woman I get immense satisfaction from helping my friends and students feel that feeling. The feeling of mutual understanding between the audience and yourself, of truly telling a story that’s valid and engaging.”
Do you think that circus is the best way to communicate these messages?
“Circus is a great way to tell stories. I think it’s the danger associated with so many of these tricks. It gives the audience a rush of adrenaline. They feel the emotions viscerally; it’s the difference between reading the poem and seeing it performed acrobatically. After one of our shows, a couple told me that the show had inspired them to try again for a child. That’s how powerful the effect of circus theatre can really be on people.”
So is that how you approach making an original show? To have people come away with with a changed perspective?
“Someone once said to me you’ve got to talk about ‘what’s hot in you’. I aim to bring that into every project I go into. I’ll interview people, I’ll look into history if necessary, any topic that we want to explore and convey to the audience. I think that circus has that way of being able to be interpreted in so many different ways. We aim to give people an experience.”
So how vital is that ‘arts experience’ in our lives?
“Its why we live. Empathy is what holds our world together. I couldn’t even imagine a world without empathy. I think that’s the gravitas of art’s power on people. It gives us that fresh perspective on the world and allows us to see what other people are feeling and change our own lives through it.”
Business owners have to be down the line sometimes, is it easy to stay creative?
“Haha. To be honest I have 20 shows in my head right now that I could do, if only I had the money to do it all! I never have a problem with staying creative. It’s my life blood. There is just so potential in the world. There is so much to talk about and there is so much joy and empathy to be created for people.”
What’s it like mentoring all of the people who come into the circus school?
“Its so rewarding to see so many of our pupils come in and gain the confidence they can to change their lives. We have a lot of women in their twenties who gain that sense of empowerment. That sense of, ‘Yeah I can dangle from a rope with one arm.’ I feel like sometimes physical bravery can be hard to find. It feels great to give people that sense of achievement and higher purpose drive towards finding themselves and helping others too. And they’re cool people too.”
On that, circuses seem to be full of the ‘weird and wonderful’ if you know what I mean… what are the people actually like within the circus environment?
“Well it does take a certain amount of crazy to throw yourself into a trick and fail at least 100 times before you can do it! But that feeling, that exhilaration that you get after doing it is something fantastic. I also think that Cirque de Solei has been great in bringing circus into the mainstream. I think that circus theatre will continue to grow into over the coming years. It just has such a wide story-telling capacity and its a taste of something different. Like I said, its the visceral nature of it that really grips people in their feelings.”
So where does the rest of the year sit?
“Our warehouse is getting too small! We need to move! Moving is going to be crazy expensive though and could be the death of the business…eek! So we’re looking to sell some shares in the Dust Palace, in order to move into bigger premises and give the whole circus community a really decent facility to come and train in! This will lead onto launching our shows throughout the rest of the world. We’ve already had some great reception internationally in Vancouver and Montreal, so it’s definitely a goal to keep up the work and tour globally.”
Make sure you check out what Dust Palace has to offer with their productions in Palmerston North at the end of July, and their work with the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra in 2019.
Words: Reid Edmond
Photography: Garth Badger of Thievery Studios
thedustpalace.co.nz / 021 822 236
739 Great South Rd, Penrose