Natano Fa’anana, co-founder of the Australian troupe Casus Circus, isn’t content with defying gravity. The 38-year-old acrobat is also defying Father Time.
“Based on my peers, I have an age difference between 12 and 13 years,” said Fa’anana, one of the four performers in “Knee Deep,” which opens Tuesday at Memminger Auditorium as part of Spoleto Festival USA. “You can be as good as you want to be, but you have to commit. It’s about being smart and wise and going for it.”
After working for a wholesale coffee company as a barista, Fa’anana made a radical change at the age of 30.
That’s considered rather late for many art forms, especially one as physically demanding as circus.
“I admire him for the courage at the age to change his life and consciously go for it,” said Jesse Hyugh, a new member of Casus. “Basically, he was like, ‘The hell with it. I am going to do this.’ ”
Fa’anana, who is of Samoan descent, specializes in being part of the base (one of the members who supports and carries other acrobats) and in aerial arts, which include freestyle jumps and somersaults.
He feels his background informs much of his aerial work, which he describes as raw as opposed to fluid.
“I learned quite early on that I am not going to be the ballet type of aerialist that is out there with clean lines and perfect form,” he said.
Instead, Fa’anana approaches his sequences with a hard-won sense of grit and masculinity. “I have taken what I know with conventional aerials and, like with all my work, added my own flavor,” he said. That flavor involves what he calls “a lot of Pacific vibes and Polynesian influences.”
Specifically, he said, Samoan dance and music “is all very earthy. We do heavy, slapping dances. That influence is in my movement.”
His fellow Casus members say Fa’anana’s age has helped give him a relaxed demeanor and a strong yearning for cohesiveness. “He is calm, laid-back,” Hyugh said. “Some people are more perked up and trying to push it. He will get the adrenaline needed for the show.”
Some of that adrenaline in “Knee Deep” comes from the show’s spontaneity, said Fa’anana, who took extra time training for his Spoleto trip to make sure he had the flexibility he needed. He hopes the audience will feel the difficulty and discomfort of some of his movements. “A lot of the show is improvised, and we grimace and wince at the pain,” he said. “We invite the audience to experience that with us.”
He and the rest of the Casus team believe storytelling is richer than just cool tricks. And at his age, telling stories is the one way the circus stays fresh for him, he said. “For now, it gives me that voice and that platform to tell my stories. I always change my answer, and it’s beautiful. It’s constantly renewing.”
Kevin Garcia is a Goldring Arts Journalist from Syracuse University.