Eve Gordon and Mike Edward need a building with a big top.

The co-founders of New Zealand's biggest circus theatre company, The Dust Palace, are poised to move from their Penrose home of six years to a bigger and taller building.

Performing contortionist tricks, aerial acrobatics and swinging from hanging silks requires a lot of space and there is no longer enough to meet growing demand for cirque classes and performances.

With just 5.5 metres of space from mats to ceiling, the present building is too short. But before the company can move to premises triple the size and 2.5m higher, it needs to raise $135,000 for fit out and to meet stringent health and safety standards.


It will launch a PledgeMe offer for creative investors to become part of The Dust Palace as well as perform a fundraising show at Q Theatre next month.

The company started in 2009 and has since performed numerous shows and festivals around New Zealand and North America. Last year, Midnight, a performance with the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra, sold out weeks before opening night.

Edward says moving to its own building in 2012, just three years after starting the cirque theatre company, felt risky.

"We didn't know if anyone would be that interested in what we were planning to do."

It proved to be a case of build it and they will come. Classes have grown to 22 per week attended by around 250 students, aged 3-67, who want to learn how to balance on other people's hands, swing from silks that hang from the ceiling or do contortionists' training to hone body awareness.

Rochelle Mangan in action at Dust Palace. Photo / Doug Sherring
Rochelle Mangan in action at Dust Palace. Photo / Doug Sherring

Gordon says this has been fed by greater awareness of ways to get and stay fit which don't involve conventional gym workouts or team sports: "The demand for alternative fitness classes had grown and grown from simple aerobics classes to what we can offer."

In June, parents of The Dust Palace students told the New Zealand Education Gazette of seeing improvements in their children's school learning, focus and self-expression, saying that circus training can build bodily strength, help develop coordination, balance and flexibility and fuel creativity and confidence.

Gordon told the Gazette she is constantly surprised at the changes in students: "Creating a space in which creativity is honoured and valued, and inspiration is an everyday state for people to operate from is such a wonderful feeling."


But it's not only the classes that have grown; so have the ideas for the shows The Dust Palace wants to make. For more contemporary tricks and stunts, its acrobats need a building with at least 7-9 metres height from floor mats to ceiling.

"You look at this building and think it's high enough but even at this height, there are a lot of things we can't do," says Edward. "With silks, where performers do tumbling drops, it's not high enough and there's certain aerial apparatus, like swings, that we can't use here."

Gordon says most performances venues are 13-15m high and acrobats need to have trained and rehearsed in similarly sized spaces.

"The apparatus we use reacts differently," she says. "If you've haven't trained at that height but go to perform somewhere else, it can be a little bit tricky and there are health and safety considerations."

Aucklanders can get a look at the heights The Dust Palace has achieved in its fundraising show, Human. Q Theatre describes it as combining captivating circus artistry and candid cabaret to take audiences on a "visceral voyage" behind-the-scenes of a late-night show and into the lives of the performers. Well-known stage and screen star Shane Cortese will MC alongside 11 elite circus performers and concert pianist Flavio Villani.

What: Human — created by The Dust Palace
Where & when: Rangatira at Q Theatre, August 1-4