Superhumans set up camp as the circus comes to the Fringe

Circus Abyssinia: Ethiopian Dreams show off their new tricks
Circus Abyssinia: Ethiopian Dreams show off their new tricks
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“Did that really just happen?” – that’s the thought that emerges time and again during Circolombia’s Acéléré. So utterly fearless are the performers of this Colombian troupe, that trick after trick has you shaking your head in disbelief.

DANCE, PHYSICAL THEATRE & CIRCUS

Acéléré by Circolombia

*****

Circa: Humans

*****

Circus Abyssinia: Ethiopian Dreams

****

Kin

***

All The Fun

**

CHILDREN’S SHOWS

Arr We There Yet?

***

The Tales of Peter Rabbit and Jemima Puddle-Duck
**

Underbelly’s Circus Hub on the Meadows (Venue 360)

There’s so much competition for circus companies at the Fringe, each touting its own unique selling point or theme in a bid to sell tickets. But for Circolombia – a company born out of two circus schools for under-privileged children in Cali and Bogota – the USP is the performers, pure and simple.

No padding is required here, other than the mats they land on, just wall-to-wall talent and skill. In a show of countless highlights, some of the more memorable moments include a romantic aerial routine in which a woman pulls her male partner high off the ground with her teeth; a remarkable balancing act whereby a man balances an enormous metal ring on his forehead, with a woman hanging inside it; high-
flying acrobatics that make you gasp out loud; and a beautiful trapeze act.

But really, I could name-check every single one of the performers and all of the tricks – which are given an extra edge by the beat-heavy reggaeton soundtrack and two superb live vocalists. This is the circus performance that shows others how it’s done. Go.

There’s a very particular kind of artistry at play when Australia’s Circa comes to town, that isn’t just about tricks but about creating a strange beauty that stays with you long after the show. This year’s offering, Humans explores how it feels to be made of flesh and blood – although I’m not entirely convinced these people are. The ten performers do things with and to their bodies that would see most people heading to A&E.

A three-high human tower, topped by a hand-on-headstand is barely watchable it looks so dangerous. In another routine, five performers are balanced on one man’s shoulders, with barely a flicker of impact registering on his face. Such incredible shows of strength and flexibility are peppered with random throws and punishing body slams, all with that special Circa theatricality that never seeks applause – just gets on with the job at hand. And we love them for it.

Growing up in Ethiopia, Bibi and Bichu Tesfamariam practised with oranges when they first discovered juggling in the school playground. A few years later, as young teens, the brothers moved to the UK and built a successful career juggling in mainstream circus. Now they’ve branched out on their own, creating Circus Abyssinia: Ethiopian Dreams, featuring the incredible Konjowoch Troupe, drawn from an acrobatic school in Addis Ababa that the brothers sponsor.

With so many circus shows on the scene today, it’s easy to think you’ve seen it all before – but the Konjowoch Troupe have a few new tricks up their sleeve. The acrobatics are higher, more gravity-defying than most would attempt, usually topped by two amazing young boys whose safety you fear for – but whose accomplishments you delight in.

An all-female contortionism quartet, seemingly spine-free, bend and stack themselves into eye-watering towers, or spin colourful squares of material on their hands and feet simultaneously, in a display of dexterity that needs to be seen to be believed. And, of course, the men behind it all, Bibi and Bichu, juggle hard and fast until it’s almost a blur. A tiny bit of padding mid-show lets things down temporarily, but otherwise this is pure circus gold.

The ratio of tricks to padding varies from show to show in circusland, and England’s Barely Methodical Troupe have landed on the wrong side of the line. When they eventually open up their bag of tricks, it’s clear there are some real goodies in there to enjoy – strong acrobatics, powerful Cyr wheel, hand-to-hand balancing. So it’s something of a mystery why they’ve populated so much of Kin (at least half the show) with fluff.

Five men bid for the attention of one woman (Nikki Rummer, the ace in the pack here), in the hope of becoming her on-stage partner. She asks them questions, they answer; sometimes raising a smile but mainly just filling time. One particular routine, in which a three-person tower is covered with a long, black cloak, is so visually striking it begs the question why there isn’t more like this to see. But ultimately, this is a circus show trying to be a theatre show, and neither genre wins.

It’s hard to know what genre to squeeze All the Fun into, because Belgian company Cie Ea Eo are on a quest to deliver an antidote to showy circus. Instead, they want to find joy in what they term “the useless moments in life”; the utterly pointless things that people do – and indeed, All the Fun is pretty pointless.

A long drawn-out routine with a tin can telephone feels like a form of torture, with the same words being spoken over and over again, while another performer balances a juggling club on his forehead.

Clearly the five performers themselves are having a good time, coming up with different ways to balance said clubs on various body parts (which they do very well) – but the whole thing feels like a series of party games, that we’re not allowed to join in with, and that’s no fun at all.

Head First Acrobats have two shows at the Hub this year – last year’s impressive romp Elixir returns, along with a new pirate-themed show for families, Arr We There Yet? The sightlines here are a problem, with an entire routine lost on a third of the audience who can see all the back-stage workings of a supposed illusion. But there’s still a fair bit of fun to be had, with acrobatics, sword juggling, a “walk the plank” section giving little ones a sample of the excitement found in grown-up circus, plus some very silly running around in ghost costumes that produces squeals of laughter.

Which unfortunately is more than can be said for The Tales of Peter Rabbit and Jemima Puddle-Duck. There may well have been a time when a woman dressed in an old fashioned Beatrix Potter costume could impart a tale with a few props, and hold a child’s attention. But this is 2017, and whether you like it or not, the youngsters sitting in front of soprano Michelle Todd are used to receiving their entertainment with a bit more humour and dynamism.

The musicians of the 
Children’s Classic Concerts Festival Ensemble are, of course, highly skilled. And composer Stephen McNeff has written a lovely score to accompany Potter’s famous tales. But this show is too wordy for toddlers, too low-key for over-fours, and sadly it’s a long time since I’ve seen a group of children so restless and distracted during a 
performance.

All shows until 26 August. Acéléré by Circolombia, 9:15pm. Circa: Humans, 7pm. Circus Abyssinia: Ethiopian Dreams, 3pm. Kin, 5pm. All The Fun, 4pm. Arr We There Yet?, 2pm. The Tales of Peter Rabbit and Jemima Puddle-Duck, noon.