It can be hard to resist diving head first into a dialect of metaphors when in the company of two of Melbourne’s most progressive performers. Juggling three kids under 10 whilst running a circus equipment store in Collingwood and attempting to balance life on and off the stage is no whimsical anecdote out of a storybook. Welcome to the world of Kate Denborough and her husband Gordon Wilson – a partnership built on love, creativity and tenacity.
“I first met Gordon at the old Juggleart in Fitzroy,” recalls Denborough. “I fell in love with you and the shop,” she tells Wilson.
Deep inside the belly of the Juggleart warehouse, we sit, swallowed by an inventory of endless circus equipment. From diabolos to stilts, these are the exotic knick-knacks that have inhabited Wilson’s life since 1992. It is here that the duo begin to dissect their story, completing each other’s sentences to form a shared history set on the fringes of performance art and culture.
Denborough – a skilled choreographer, performer and co-founder of production Company KAGE – has been involved in dance theatre for over 15 years. Shifting roles between that of director, producer and performer across more than 14 KAGE productions, Denborough has helped to propel the dance-theatre industry into fresh territory, creating new and bold opportunities for emerging dance artists.
Wilson, founder of Juggleart, has cultivated a business that reaches out to performers and institutions worldwide. Wilson is proud, as both a father and a businessman, to foster a practice that gives children the opportunity to physically and mentally express themselves. He holds faith in the understated power of circus performance as an educational vehicle.
“The New South Wales education board has introduced circus performance as an educational elective. Every kid can find their place in it…it’s a very accepting community,” he says.
Together, the duo have been able to share their unique creative visions, collaborating in business and in life to help each other realise career objectives while also giving each other the time and support necessary to indulge in separate artistic interests outside of the business.
“I think we have similar artistic sensibilities,” Wilson remarks. “Perhaps I might be a little bit more grounded in a practical sense. I bring all of the logic and reasoning to the wild, ambitious and fantastic thoughts of realising a production, but we work on everything together.”
“Yes I’m often loftier and Gordon is more sensible, but that’s why we make such a great team. We find a way to meet in the middle,” says Denborough.
Thanks to his wife, Wilson has been able to take time away from the Juggleart store, building props and designing prosthetic makeup for a number of KAGE productions. Likewise, Denborough has been able to return to the stage for the first time in over 10 years, performing in her own KAGE production of Flesh and Bone as Wilson tucks their three children into bed over the season.
Admitting to the inseparability of a busy career in the arts and family life, Denborough and Wilson rejoice in the thought of their three children understanding and actively participating in their work. From taking baby Oscar to Japan six times when Denborough was directing the Australian artistic contingent of the World Expo, to casting another one of their boys in a recent KAGE production, the duo are excited by the reality of their children being surrounded by a growing community of broad-minded friends and role models alike.
“Our place is mayhem, it’s a real life circus there too,” says Denborough of their home in Northcote. “Switching hats between being a parent and being at work is the trickiest.”
“There’s a show on at our place every night,” Wilson marvels. “I use the kids as guinea pigs too – I’ll come home from work and they’ll ask me what equipment I’ve got… It’s great for all of us because I get to see how the products go and they get to play around with them.”
For Wilson and Denborough, sometimes the reality of actualising big dreams is swamped by a lack of funding and support from the arts sector.
“It’s a constant struggle and it’s hard not to get bogged down by money,” says Denborough. “If you have no money, it’s very hard to evolve your own practice.”
“It really is [about] passion and tenacity. You’ve got to be a believer,” Wilson adds. “Along the road of arts funding in Australia there are all sorts of disappointments all the time, and you just have to look past that and push through.
“[But] I don’t think at any stage did we believe this was financially a good idea,” laughs Wilson. “We never wanted a Lamborghini.”
Wilson and Denborough reveal that running away from the circus is near impossible but, despite a constant consciousness for business, the pair embrace what they have and agree that a break from their usual routine - enjoyed at a tiny beach shack on the Peninsular – is a vital creative replenishment.
Says Denborough: “I feel life is very short and we’re very aware of trying to enjoy things and have fun with the kids and be a fun mum and a fun dad. There are so many pressures in life and I think that our sense of fun is the strongest thing we have as a family.”