You’d think Ann Sherry AO would be too busy to run away to the circus. Mind you, the newly minted chair of Circa, Brisbane’s acclaimed contemporary circus outfit, doesn’t actually have to run away at all.

Because she’s now based in Brisbane, home of Circa. Sherry succeeds Michael Lynch as chair of this extraordinary company. Not that she needed another board position.

This Queenslander, originally from Gympie, is one of Australia’s leading business executives with a career that spans government, banking and tourism.

She is already chair of UNICEF Australia, Enero Group, the Port of Townsville and Queensland Airports Limited. She is also a non-executive director of National Bank Australia and chancellor of Queensland University of Technology.

Doe she really needs another string to her bow? Actually, she is thrilled with the new gig. Sherry, who was awarded an Order of Australia in 2004, is a former CEO and executive chairman of Carnival Australia (she is still an adviser to the cruise company) and it was through Carnival that she was first exposed to Circa.

Sherry already had some experience in the arts on the board of Sydney’s Belvoir St Theatre and as a director of the Museum of Contemporary Art, also in Sydney, until the end of 2022.

Carnival features plenty of arts and entertainment on its cruise liners and Circa has a contract to perform on the Cunard line, a Carnival brand.

“The first time I saw Circa was on a Cunard ship,” Sherry explains. “I went to the launch of the partnership between Circa and Cunard. They asked me to do the launch. That’s when I met artistic director Yaron Lifschitz and the first time I saw Circa perform. I was amazed at how beautiful and breath-taking it was. A lot of circus I’ve seen is quite different. This was beautiful.”

Sherry recently attended Opera Australia and Sydney Festival’s presentation of Opera Queensland’s production of Orpheus & Eurydice, in association with Circa, at Sydney Opera House.

“They took one of the world’s most boring operas and made it a visual treat,” Sherry says.

She regards arts organisations as important as other businesses, “not because the arts is fun but because it’s part of the soul of who we are”.

And she is full of admiration for Circa’s globe-trotting artistic director Lifschitz, who is just as busy as she is.

“He has a huge reputation,” Sherry says. “Circa has to be the best-kept global secret in Brisbane. People know Yaron all over the world and now the challenge is to get people here to realise what an extraordinary company we have.”

Lifschitz is happy to have Sherry as chair.

“As Circa embarks on an ambitious growth phase in these unstable times we look forward to Ann’s guidance and insights as we move forward, touring the globe, building new initiatives and preparing for the 2032 Olympics. Ann is a powerhouse leader with vast experience, extensive connections and exceptional strategic acumen.”

He says she can help the company “go from being a sailing boat to being a motor boat controlling our own direction”.

Lifschitz and Sherry hope to broaden the fan base in the company’s home city.

And soon Circa opens at QPAC with a limited season of their international hit What Will Have Been. For its performers, this is the most challenging show in Circa’s repertoire. Three acrobats join a violinist on a bare stage in a production that has received critical acclaim across France, Germany, Japan, the UK and the US.

Circa acrobats Daniel O’Brien, Kimberley Rossi and Zac Stephens will be accompanied live on stage by Queensland Symphony Orchestra first violin Rebecca Seymour in a show that brings together Bach and Vivaldi with a contemporary playlist.

What Will Have Been explores the futur antérieur (future perfect), both a grammatical case and contemporary philosophy, which intrigued Lifschitz when he was creating the work with the Circa Ensemble.

The concept leads to three acrobats searching for balance in a topsy turvy world, through a sublime display of interlocking bodies, awe-inspiring movement and pure physical beauty.

The season will be a hometown premiere for Circa, which celebrates its 20th anniversary in 2024. This show has received rave reviews and sold-out houses around the world and been seen by about 1.5 million people.

Minister for the Arts Leeanne Enoch congratulated the globally acclaimed Queensland company.

Circa Contemporary Circus creates awe-inspiring performances combining circus, dance, theatre and live music in collaboration with other exceptional Queensland arts organisations like the Queensland Symphony Orchestra,” Enoch says.

“The Queensland Government is proud to invest in Circa to support the growth of one of the state’s major performing arts companies, boost Queensland’s reputation as a cultural tourism destination, and support our arts and cultural sector to shine on the worldwide stage of the Brisbane 2032 Olympic and Paralympic Games.”

Lifschitz says the show has grown richer over time and QPAC audiences could expect real moments of beauty and an emotionally charged performance.

Circa’s What Will Have Been can be seen at the Playhouse, QPAC, March 13 to 17

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