“One of the reasons for our longevity is kids are a renewable resource,” she says. “It sounds kind of mercenary. But there’s always new kids coming through who are passionate and hungry.
“Circus is an amazing alternative physical activity to competitive sport. It doesn’t glorify winning, it doesn’t glorify competition or being the best. It glorifies diversity. We need the big, brawny kids to stand at the bottom of the pyramid. But we also need the tiny, bendy kids to stand at the top. It’s why the parents get on board, they see the value.”
Over the years, the Flying Fruit Fly Circus has been influenced by China’s Nanjing Acrobatic Troupe and Russia’s Moscow Circus thanks to a series of international visits and workshops. At the same time, the school has strived to retain its “traditional Australian larrikinism”.
“Australian contemporary circus is completely populated with former fruit flies,” Davey says. “They go out and make their own companies or join existing ones. They’re everywhere. They’re in Berlin. We’ve got fruit flies in Wales. We’ve been feeding [Canada’s] Cirque du Soleil for many years.
“There’s also the kids that finish up in year 12 and they go to university and study maths. So all of those choices we celebrate.”
The Flying Fruit Fly Circus is often a family affair – it’s common for families to have all their children enrolled, and for one of the parents to have gone through the program themselves.
“We’ve got about five kids of ex-fruities in the main program at the moment,” Davey says. “They think nothing of going to Quebec in the freezing cold for three years [to continue training] because they’ve got a precedent. It’s become a generational thing.”
To celebrate its longevity, the circus is going back to its roots. The first-ever Flying Fruit Fly Circus was staged in a big-top circus tent near the banks of the Murray River as part of a children’s holiday program. Next week, a new generation of acrobats will perform in almost exactly the same spot in Albury’s Hovell Tree Park, with their show Back in the Big Top featuring every Fruit Fly student from the ages of eight to 19.
One performer, 15-year-old Fidel Lancaster-Cole, said he was looking forward to showing off his new tricks and that he couldn’t imagine going to school without spending afternoons flying through the air or lifting his fellow students off the ground.
“My brother was already in the fruit flies and my parents were part of the circus scene,” he said. “The idea of learning all these skills with people I already knew sounded great. I couldn’t help myself. I’ll just see where it takes me.”
Back in the Big Top will take place in Albury-Wodonga with six shows from Wednesday, December 4 until Saturday, December 7. For more information visit borderville.com.au.
Broede Carmody is a culture reporter at The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald