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In Conversation with Harley Mann

Updated: Nov 23, 2021

Ahead of their highly anticipated return season of COMMON DISSONANCE, we catch up with the show’s co-creator, performer and Na Djinang Circus’ founder Harley Mann.

Q: Can you remember and tell us about your first encounter with circus? A: I don’t think I can remember a time when I wasn’t doing circus, but I would say one of my most significant memories of circus was the Catapult Circus Festival in 2012. This was the first time I was exposed to a variety of contemporary Australian circus and was a clear moment that would inform my future career.

It was here I saw Knee Deep by Casus Circus and was amazed by the artistic range of circus and how acrobatics can be used to tell authentic and intimate stories. I remember an intimate acrobatic duet between Jesse Scott and a single chicken egg, that made me realise how honest and exposed circus could be. I was so inspired I would later go on to work for Casus.

Q: How did the idea behind Common Dissonance come about? This idea came from two simple conversations that sparked a complex conflict within my head.

The initial conversation was with the cast of Chasing Smoke while touring with Casus, we were telling ghost stories. And this led to a discussion about how there are certain places in Australia that have significant cultural value or violent acts have taken place there and you can feel it and the spirits of that place warn you to leave.

The cast recounted similar experiences of being woken up in the middle of the night pinned down in their beds and they could see these spirits.

In a later conversation with some of my university peers I was recounting these experiences and they replied, “Oh that’s just sleep paralysis”; a phenomena that is completely explainable through science.

Both of my friends had very real and defined answers to the same question, proved and validated by their own personal perspectives and modes of reasoning.

And this triggered the complex question that underlines the show: how can two different explanations to a question co-exist?

Q: Tell us about your collaboration with Isabella Champagne-Chittick and the roles you play. A: Isy and I have been close friends for a while now. We were in the same year group at NICA (National Institute of Circus Arts) and have been training together ever since. Isy was involved in Na Djinang’s very first project for the Gasworks Circus showdown and has always been an essential member of the company.

In the show we both represent one of these modes of reasoning, and the characters that we play respond to each other as they try to find a sense of balance. Dramaturgically, these characters are each very much one side of the same coin, but in real life Isy and I both resonate with aspects of both. It’s a really exciting show to perform because it constantly challenges your own views and opinions.

Q: How have you maintained your training and continued with rehearsals during lockdown periods? A: It’s been long and difficult. Over the course of all the lockdowns there has been a variety of innovative approaches to maintaining our circus fitness. We have moved into the same share houses so we could be in the same bubble. We have had partial exemptions to return to NICA. But overall, it’s been really challenging, and so we have mostly been focusing on our mental health and being prepared to come back to rehearsal as healthy humans.

Q: What have you missed most about performing over the last 18 months? A: For me circus is inherently political, and it’s my medium for expressing my political views, so in such a politically turbulent time it’s been very difficult not having that platform for expression. Additionally, I’m excited to hang out with my community and just enjoy some art and a beer.

Q: What advice would you give to emerging circus artists? A: Take time and ask for help. I don’t think any of the work I’ve made, or the successes I’ve had throughout my career have been by myself. I think art is one of the aspects of society that doesn’t need to be competitive, and we can support each other and grow collectively. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, and don’t be afraid of not knowing the answers.

Q: Can you summarise Common Dissonance in five words? A: Personal, community, distinctive, current, unassuming.

COMMON DISSONANCE by Na Djinang Circus 17-27 November BOOK HERE

Profile photo by Steph Cox Production photo by Aaron Walker


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