Revel in the ultimate night out - Regional News | Connecting Wellington
 Issue 221

Photo by Big Mark Photography

Revel in the ultimate night out by Madelaine Empson

Jackson Cordery is an aerialist, pianist, and accordionist who has flown through venues of all shapes and sizes – to audiences of thousands and less than 10 across Pōneke, Aotearoa, and beyond. Moving from Taranaki to Wellington to study composition at the New Zealand School of Music – Te Kōkī in 2014, Cordery pirouetted into a sky-high career in aerial silk that has seen him tour internationally with his contemporary circus company Inverted Citizens, soon to launch a premier cocktail and cabaret experience in Wellington. Escape into the unforgettable world of Revel at Hannah Playhouse on the 13th of July.

Let’s talk a little bit about your disciplines. How did music and circus first spark a passion for you?

I first started with circus, and that was sparked when my grandma took me to a touring big top circus when I was maybe preschool age. That planted that seed, and it was bubbling away ever since then. Then around my early teens, my family went to Cirque du Soleil, and that was the first time that I’d seen circus in a more contemporary way. That really got the wheels turning for me. From that point, I was on board and wanting to get involved. Always in my backyard trying to teach myself tricks. But in terms of actually properly going for it, there wasn’t really an option for me. I grew up in a little rural town called Inglewood, which is in Taranaki, nearby to New Plymouth, and circus wasn’t a subject at school, obviously. The performing art that was available for me was music. I really enjoyed music, and I followed that all the way through high school. I chose to come to Wellington to uni for composition. I was saying to my parents, ‘Oh, it’s got a really good music school, yeah yeah yeah’, but the other secret part of the reason was that I knew there was a circus scene. As soon as I graduated from uni, I immediately pivoted to circus and dove head-first into that. I was lucky enough to get swept up and taken in by a few different companies and got performing straight away. The rest is history!

What was it like moving from Inglewood to Wellington?

I think it was something that I needed to do. Everything that I wanted out of life was here, not just because it’s a city, but because Wellington specifically had the right mix of things. Looking back, I do enjoy the small-town lifestyle, probably more than living in the city, but the choice was between doing what I love and not. So that’s why I’m here, and I do love Wellington.

What springs to mind when you think of the Wellington circus scene?

The word that comes to mind is community. It’s a really wholesome vibe, and I think part of that is because we have The Circus Hub, and that really is just the one main centre of circus in Wellington. So, professional performers and recreational students of all ages all interact at The Circus Hub. This is a bit ushy-gushy, but after moving down from Inglewood, The Circus Hub is really where I found community and it’s still the strongest one in my life.

I want to circle back to you practising tricks in the yard... Do you remember your first trick or the first thing you totally nailed on the grass?

I did gymnastics as a younger kid, so I was always doing cartwheels and things like that. But one standout circusy thing is – and I wouldn’t recommend this practice, but – I stole some bed sheets from the linen cupboard and tied them up to the rafters in the garage and tried an ad hoc version of aerial silk. It was always specifically aerial silk that I wanted to do, so I was like, I’m gonna make this happen. I didn’t really have any tricks, I would just... hang from there [laughs].

Glorious! That’s a great segue into aerial silk. I’ve seen you do some jaw-dropping performances. Do you feel fear learning new tricks for the first time, or is fear the wrong word?

Yeah, maybe fear is the wrong word. I’m not afraid of heights – funnily enough, there are some circus aerialists who are! For me, I think of it like a respect: you kind of stop and respect the risk that you’re taking and give it the proper time to make sure that you’re doing it safely. I do still get butterflies sometimes, especially if it’s an unfamiliar context: a kind of show that I’m not used to doing, that sort of thing.

I was thinking about anxiety and excitement triggering similar chemical responses in our bodies – a bit like those butterflies you mentioned. Is that thrill part of the reason that you do it?

Maybe! Maybe I’m secretly, subconsciously addicted to that thrill. I get a lot out of the stuff that I do, that I’ve done, and shows on the ground as well, not just the aerial part. I enjoy that feeling of flying, but I think for me, the thrill is more metaphorical and about performing and doing something on stage – having that collective experience with an audience.

What have been some of the highlights of your circus journey so far?

Some of my fondest memories have been the smaller-scale, self-produced things, I guess because there’s more of a wholesome, human scale to them. I’ve done that small-scale stuff in San Diego in 2019 for a self-produced little tour to the fringe festival over there, in Canada, and in Perth, and all three of those were rollercoasters! You feel like you finally crack the code and you know what you’re doing, and no problem is going to happen. But every time, some unexpected curveball comes at you. It’s quite a tumultuous experience, but so far, the shows have always gone well and there has always been a happy ending.

On the other end of the scale, in terms of the bigger gigs, it is fun just to sit back and only have to show up and do your little part in the bigger scheme of things. Things like WOW® [Cordery performed at the World of WearableArt™ Show in 2019 and 2023 as an aerialist] have been really nice for that, where you get paid properly to just do your job and not have to think about different things outside of the performance.

Why did you launch Inverted Citizens with Sophia O’Connor and Laura Oakley in 2018 and what has been the company’s trajectory since then?

At that time, there weren’t many small-scale circus companies operating in Wellington, so if we wanted to do a show, we had to make it happen ourselves. We really started getting some nice momentum... pre-COVID [chuckles]. We were set to head over to Adelaide Fringe, which is the second biggest fringe festival in the world after Edinburgh. It was all lined up in 2020 for 2021 and then obviously there was a bit of a spanner in the works and it was postponed, then cancelled after a couple more tries. Sophia has since moved to Germany, so we were really building, and then we took a dive in terms of progress, and now we’re really excited to be building again to the point where we’re expanding. We started with just the three of us, and then in this new show, there’s a cast of six. I’m producing, I’m not on stage. I love performing, but I also do love the ‘just making things happen’ side of it. Like I was saying about gigs like WOW, the dream really is just to do one job at a time and do it properly.

Can you give me a rundown of the new variety cabaret?

What we have seen on our travels is that a really successful model for creating work which is both commercially successful and that people want to buy tickets to, and also is the sort of work that satisfies us and we’re interested in doing, is the dinner cabaret. This show – which is just cocktails and cabaret for now – is the first little step towards our vision of building an annual, iconic dinner cabaret season here in Wellington and creating more work locally.

What can audiences expect from Revel?

We’ve got circus, live music, drag, and there is a comedic element, but not like stand-up comedy – it’s definitely that cabaret vibe as opposed to the full variety show. It will be very sparkly and glamorous and exciting and served up with bespoke cocktails on the evening. It’s an ultimate night out experience!

View more articles from:
« Issue 221, June 4, 2024