Context and delivery are what separate the best from the rest when walking the hgiht wire that stretches over sucess or failure.
Star rating: Closer By Circa *****
Silver Lining & Jacksons Lane: Throwback ****
Perhaps Hope ***
Joli Vyann: Imbalance ***
Bedtime Stories: ****
Venue: Underbelly, George Square, (Venue 300)
As the saying goes, it’s not what you’ve got, it’s what you do with it that counts. Never could a truer word be said about circus. With so many performers doing the same things with largely the same equipment, having learned the same skills in circus school, it all comes down to context and delivery.
I like to imagine the good people of Circa sit around during early rehearsals, planning all the ways they can take their art to the next level. That they are silently saying to every other circus artist, I see your hand balances, shoulder stands and scary lifts – and raise you. Because if there’s a difficult way to execute a manoeuvre, this Australian company will find it.
Occasionally, a prop comes into play: the hula hoop routine from last year’s show, Close Up, makes a welcome return, a remarkable coming together of beauty and hard-won technique. So too the stacking chairs, which must have everyone in the front row wondering if their will is up to date. But mostly, Closer is about the physical frame. Bodies do things they really aren’t supposed to; weight is carried by arms and legs that, by rights, should buckle and break. Except, of course, they don’t – it’s all done with apparent ease, stripped-back simplicity, great musical choices and so much class.
There’s a touch of raunchiness in Elixir, by Melbourne-based company Head First Acrobats, but here it’s done with such wit, it works perfectly. A daft plot, involving medical experiments and zombies, sees three guys showcase their prowess in the interests of science. Thomas Gorham and Cal Harris both have natural strength and ability, delivering acrobatics that deserve, and get, loud applause. Rowan Thomas is a comic foil, seemingly weak and useless – until he comes into his own with a superb Cyr wheel display.
There are a lot of laughs to be had, fostering a genuine rapport between these very likeable performers and us that ensures we root for them all the way. Kudos, also, for their surprisingly good attempt at Michael Jackson’s Thriller choreography, which elicited laughter and respect from a very happy crowd.
But if there’s a warm heart to be found, it’s sitting right in the middle of Throwback. This gem of a show created at Jacksons Lane in London touches you in all the right places.
Not only have they got the circus goods: aerial work, Chinese pole, foot juggling, hand balancing and acrobatics, but there’s some fine vocal talent at play here, too (during one highlight, they happen at the same time). Add to that touching stories about who they are, where they come from and what’s important to them, and they’ve got you in their grasp. And, as the name suggests, it’s all about memories from the past, so some oldie but goody tunes make it on to the playlist.
Circus is essentially the place we go when we want to have fun, so it’s unusual to find a show tackling the serious matters of today. Hats off then to Australia’s Company Here and Now for stepping up to the plate with Perhaps Hope, their response to the ever-increasing problem of climate change.
Although they might need to shout their message a little louder if it’s to be heard, because aside from audio clips discussing the problem, it’s hard to decipher exactly what Rockie Stone and Vincent van Berkel are trying to say. Both are very fine performers, capable of powerful lifts and balances that make you hold your breath in anticipation. But in its current structure, Perhaps Hope doesn’t give them enough opportunities to shine.
With hand, foot and head balances featuring in practically all the circus shows in town, it’s interesting to find two companies talking about imbalance – but of a very different kind. Both Joli Vyann from south-west England, and London’s Upswing explore the problems many of us have with our relationship to work and technology.
In Joli Vyann’s Imbalance, a couple replicate a scene that must play-out in houses across the world. Sitting at the table, they communicate not with each other but with people elsewhere, their eyes resolutely glued to their phone and laptop. Even when they start to move around, their electrical devices remain stuck to their hands.
Performers Jan Patzke and Olivia Quayle, a former stunt man and ex-gymnast respectively (which tells you something about their strength and agility), have created a rather unusual blend of circus and dance in which neither form loses out. There are moments of fluid beauty when their bodies come together choreographically, interspersed by the technically proficient skills you’d expect from a circus show – it’s just not often we see both things come together in one show.
Patzke and Quayle aren’t unrealistic about technology – like everyone else, they ask us to tweet and Facebook about their show at the end. But they do give us pause for thought, because when they finally put their devices away and concentrate on each other, the connection between them – both physically and emotionally – is so much stronger.
It’s a message you’re never too young to learn, and one which we need a constant reminder of – which is where Bedtime Stories comes in. On one level, this is simply a very beautiful, dynamic and well-crafted show for children and their grown-ups. A platform bed is covered in cuddly toys, and flanked on four sides by a screen on to which colourful illustrations are projected. Inside, a little girl begs for another story from her mum, who is struggling to meet her child’s needs and complete the work she has waiting on her desk downstairs.
Which is the other level this show operates on. The quest for a work/life balance, and to find enough hours in the day to earn a living and spend time with your child, will resonate with the majority of adults sitting in the theatre. Aware of the struggle, Upswing doesn’t preach, merely suggests that the child could be more patient and understanding and the parent could learn when to push other things aside and focus on their child.
Underlying message aside, the proximity of performers to audience (especially those tucked up in a duvet at the edge of the stage – arrive early to secure a good spot) makes this an exciting introduction to acrobatics for the circus fans of tomorrow.
Closer By Circa until 29 August; today 6:55pm. Elixir until 22 August; today 10pm. Silver Lining & Jacksons Lane: Throwback until 22 August; today 4:30pm. Perhaps Hope until 22 August; today 5:30pm. Joli Vyann: Imbalance until 22 August; today 7:30pm.