Don't call Eve Gordon in the mornings.

One of New Zealand's leading aerial circus performers, she won't take your call - not because she's sleeping in but because she's ensconced in the Penrose headquarters of her circus theatre company, The Dust Palace, where she trains daily. Every morning.

Training involves feats like swinging from the ceiling, slithering up silk ropes and balancing on the edge of chairs. When your work involves being suspended 10m up in the air for much of the night, you want to ensure you've put the hard yards into training.

So, for the better part of a year, Gordon and a team of acrobats - mimes, contortionists and hand, chair and person balance specialists - have been crafting The Dust Palace's most ambitious show yet.

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Called Midnight, it's also one of the company's most unusual collaborations and sees it joining the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra for a one-night-only performance.
The full-scale concert is set in a magical forest inhabited by cheeky fairies, heavenly beings, dark creatures and a doctor who's on a mission for a king. The soundtrack, including favourites like Debussy's Clair de Lune, Mendelssohn's A Midsummer Night's Dream and Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake, will be performed live by the APO.

The Dust Palace was founded by Gordon and Mike Edward in 2009, and Midnight is further proof of the company's move away from earlier cabaret and burlesque-style works.

"It's an amazing step not only for us but for circus in New Zealand because of the kudos classical music has," says Gordon. "To be validated by being invited to collaborate with the orchestra is amazing because, I think, circus still has a reputation for being just about clowning and doing handstands.

"To be able to show New Zealand there's so much more to it than that - what a huge growth there's been in circus - is great."

That there's so much more to circus arts than clowning and handstands was immediately apparent to the APO's chief executive, Barbara Glaser, and its director of artistic planning, Ronan Tighe, when, in 2016, the orchestra was paired with The Dust Palace for two acts at Rotorua's Lakeside concert.

Tighe doesn't know whose idea that was but recalls turning to Glaser and both of them instantly recognising what the other was thinking: they needed to make a full show with The Dust Palace. He says they've let Gordon set the direction for the show, including the music.

"Collaboration is in our DNA," he says. "It always pays to be open to opportunities for collaboration even when - especially when - the scope for developing a project may not be immediately obvious. Putting a cirque troupe with an orchestra might be one of those. After all, we're a stationary entity sitting on a stage and they're people who perform on ropes and hoops doing all sorts of movements and contortioning above the orchestra."

Gordon says it was vital to find a story, with music that supports the tale, otherwise it could have ended up looking like a series of circus acts with some music playing in the background. It was also important to work out logistics.

The performers, for example, couldn't be directly above the APO. No one wants an acrobat landing in the lap of a violinist, unlikely as that is.

"Yes, that would be a pity," says Tighe somewhat understatedly.

The Aotea Centre's main stage is big enough that the orchestra can sit back ever so slightly, allowing The Dust Palace to be front and centre.

Both Tighe and Gordon are - for now - resigned to the fact that, despite the hours of work poured into the project, it's a one-night only affair. Tighe says the Aotea Centre is a big venue and the APO hasn't tried anything like this before but, if it flies, then they could well look at bringing it back.

He says an excerpt presented late last year for the launch of the APO's 2017 season made guests sit up and take notice so he's quietly confident it will go well. Meanwhile, Gordon says given the work that's gone into Midnight, she'd like to see it travel to other centres where there's an orchestra to play with.

There's no doubt The Dust Palace has what it takes to perform its stories around the world. Recently returned from performances of its Goblin Market show in Vancouver and Montreal, they were lauded by Canadian critics.

Midnight is conducted by David Kay and features circus performers Eve Gordon, Mike Edward, Trygve Wakenshaw, Geoff Gilson, Rochelle Mangan, Jaine Meika, Ariel Cronin, Reid McGowan, Ella Edward, Quinn Vale and Harry Adams.

LOWDOWN
What: Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra and The Dust Palace with Auckland Live, Midnight
Where and when: Aotea Centre, ASB Theatre, Thursday