For decades, performance has been the driving force in Anni Davey's life. It is an intrinsic part of her identity that continues as artistic director of the Flying Fruit Fly Circus.
Acting bit when she was not much more than a bug, seven-years-old and swooning with twin sister Maude over make-believe and that delicious delight of putting on a show.
Spin away another 50 years and Anni Davey is still an actor, is a long-time circus tour de force.
Now she’s also, just of late, a North Albury mum who without still being so strong and fit and relaxed and sunny couldn’t let this sooky, slightly delinquent soft-touch called Barley try to drag her around the neighbourhood for three hours each day.
The dog was a 12th birthday gift to Nell, the kid who gave Mum her yep, I’m up for it, despite a life always on the move, to make this big transition from Melbourne to the Border.
To take up the job as artistic director for Albury-Wodonga’s Flying Fruit Fly Circus.
Maude remains in the business too, still giving Anni the chuckling fun of being confused by today’s Fruities crew with that woman off Summer Heights High.
Yes, that’s Maude Davey on the tele’ as Ms Palmer, Chris Lilley’s Jonah Takalua’s “mad” favourite teacher.
It’s a given that you might get confused, though not between Anni and Maude.
More so it’s in trying to keep track of the enormous diversity in Anni Davey’s career, the buzz and plaudits from performing at the Edinburgh Festival, of being part of the early days of Circus Oz, from the a capella ensemble Crying in Public Places.
Davey’s working life is full of subtle and not-so-subtle twists and steps, creating a body of work that really shouldn’t surprise, certainly not herself given a drive and willingness to always try something new or something that at first might seem peculiar.
She and Maude kept on with acting classes until they were 13 and back then, it was the 1970s, they went to alternative schools, which might seem the perfect environment for someone destined to perform.
But it didn’t. Davey craved structure and knowledge, to get her (as she eventually did) to the University of Western Australia for what became two years of a double-major in maths and philosophy, studying with potential astrophysicists while “mucking around” in the university dramatics society.
I would not send my kid to an alternative school from that experience. I felt like when I emerged from school that I had missed a whole lot of stuff about living in the world. I had to learn late and it felt like a disadvantage.
She knew by the end of Year 10 that it meant, despite meeting all those fuzzy intangibles of self-determination and independence, she had no hope of getting her leaving certificate.
If not for a math teacher by the name of Lillian, an older curiosity of rigorous teaching among the young and groovy coterie, who nonetheless was inspired by the school’s philosophies, she might not have realised.
She was the best thing that ever happened to me because she gave me these maths books and I went home and devoured them. I regarded myself as intelligent and capable and I realised that I needed guidance.
Davey would never again spend a whole school term in an art room making a mosaic. Nearby was John Curtin High School, now the renowned John Curtin College of the Arts, which as the name makes clear is all things theatre, art and dance.
She told John Curtin’s headmaster she wanted to study maths, the traditional rigors of physics and chemistry.
A fierce-looking, muscly bloke called Mr Scott took her first maths class, which revealed her shortfalls; she could attempt only two of 10 questions on a test.
I was horrified, so Wednesday afternoons I wagged sport and I went back to my old community school, which was just down the road, and I walked in and said to the headmaster, who was also the chemistry teacher, ‘you have to help me, I can’t do this’. I don’t know why he did it, I wasn’t even a student.
One of the things that I discovered was the kids at this High school were determined not to listen, determined not to soak it up. In chemistry class they’d be talking and gossiping and doing anything but listen to the teacher. And I’d be fascinated with the chemistry.
That passion for the maths and sciences didn’t kick the creatives to the kerb. At the time she was among a group of about 10 in her year who forged a career in the arts, the most notable being the dancer-actor and Strictly Ballroom star Paul Mercurio.
Davey finished school, got on a bus and went to Sydney, hoping to carve-out her own version of the exotic stories of others who had made the leap then enraptured on their return.
It was extraordinary the difference. I didn't even know there were multiple types of lettuces; I thought iceberg was it. You know, you get to Sydney and there's avocados. I had never tasted an avocado. And Vietnamese food. I went to Glebe Point Road and to a Vietnamese restaurant and coriander – mind-blowing, mind-blowing!
She’d slip under the tent flaps to watch and dream about being part of Circus Oz, trying so hard to attract their attention, but the girls were so mean.
While part of the street performance outfit Death Defying Theatre she saw an ad for Circus Oz actors and acrobats and, after a second go at it, got in as a performer.
I was the one who was suppose to talk. I came out and said: “Now I will perform a triple back somersault from the diving board of death through the flaming hoop of death with blindfold on.” Then Matthew would come in with a fire extinguisher and put me out and then do the trampoline act.
Davey’s feeling that identity is something you shape rather than being born with, unlike character, has played out in that stellar career.
There’s the days of Circus Oz, performing with Jane Bayly, Karen Hadfield and her sister in Crying in Public Places, while living in a huge, old really cool warehouse in Fitzroy’s Brunswick Street, and later going off to France to study flying trapeze.
There was a double trapeze fall in Edinburgh where the loop around her foot broke, propelling her head first to the ground, breaking her neck and both wrists, losing a vertebral artery, some nerves in her brachial plexus, about 30 percent of one bicep, then three months in bed.
Teaching at Circus Oz, her Club Swing days, off to Brisbane with the Rock ‘n’ Roll Circus, directing for the Women’s Circus and now, the Fruit Flies.
One day, walking the dog, fellow circus performer and director Chelsea McGuffin called to tell her of the job.
She knew that artistic director Jodie Farrugio had pulled this company out of what was a bit of a slump some years ago into this really good position.
It feels sometimes like all my life I’ve had this image where it’s almost like you’re swimming under water and you’re just struggling through. And then it’s like you stick your head up above the water and you can look around. A moment of clarity.
Now though it’s accepting the great worth in being an all-encompassing mentor, accepting it’s no longer her responsibility to make decisions on the future of circus.
The opportunity to infect the next generation of circus performers with that passion for making intelligent work that talks about ideas rather than just making pretty pictures is a really great opportunity. It’s these kids’ responsibility to decide what circus will look like. They’ve got to do that.