THE National Institute of Circus Arts is a lot quieter than you'd expect. Circus, after all, is to spectacle, energy and adrenalin what Stephen Hawking is to physics, but the light, airy hangar NICA occupies at Swinburne University of Technology in Prahran, Melbourne, has a meditative feel to it. It veers far closer to zen than zing, despite being densely populated with young, preternaturally fit people practising aerials, contortion and acrobatics. Any kind of physical skill, really, that has the potential to turn your ankle or, say, kill you.
But there's no showbiz, showboating or pizzazz here. Just lines of bodies doing handstands against the windows, upside down and motionless, like a row of fruit bats, if fruit bats wore pastel singlets, leggings, and the occasional support bandage. And down they come. Then up they go. Repeat until the sun turns supernova.
There's a juggler in one corner, oblivious to everything except the clubs, a student balancing on his head on a trapeze, another hula-hooping with three rings, four people negotiating standing on each other's shoulders, and a woman doing the splits and being further stretched by her Chinese trainer, who's sitting on her back as she leans forward.
There's no music pumping, no giant plasma screens intruding with the latest hit by Ke$ha, just the creak of equipment, the smack of flesh against flesh and a bit of quiet chat around the teeter board. It's beautiful, actually, and remarkably soothing; not dissimilar to visiting an aquarium. The main training space at NICA would make one heck of a screen-saver.