Edinburgh Festival Fringe dance, physical theatre & circus reviews: Circa: Humans 2.0 | Pain and I | Zoe | DONUTS | BreAking | Collision

A flawless display of human physicality is the soul stirring five-star highlight of our latest batch of dance, physical theatre and circus reviews. Words by Kelly Apter and Fergus Morgan.

Circa: Humans 2.0 *****

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

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There’s something almost comforting about walking into a Circa show. Knowing, without a shadow of a doubt, that you’ll be met with high quality circus that sets your pulse racing and your soul stirring. Circa’s artistic director, Yaron Lifschitz created Humans 2.0 to capture ‘the challenge of being human’. So a show where people connect, support, occasionally miss the mark but ultimately have each other’s backs, sounds about right.

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By ‘miss the mark’, I mean deliberately. A performer leaps in the air, expecting his colleagues to catch him but instead he hits the floor. But this is no accident, because everything in Humans 2.0 is flawless. Each lift, throw, balance, tumble, scoop and jump is an act of precision. Sometimes the sheer flexibility and strength is what grabs you, such as a female performer bent backwards in the crab position, bearing the weight of a 2-person tower on her ribcage. Sometimes it’s the speed that drops your jaw, in particular the way artists defy gravity and hoist themselves, or are thrown, into a 3-person tower in seconds. The one constant is our unwavering confidence in their ability.

In the multitude of circus shows at this year’s Fringe, many other companies are executing similar manoeuvres, so what makes Circa so special? In a word, class. All the action takes place on a bright, white circular stage and, aside from two aerial ropes, there is no set or props. The performers are dressed in burnt orange, gold and black costumes, giving them a stylish uniformity. And at no point do they illicit applause, or even stop for it, the show just keeps on going and flowing, until the whole tent erupts in a chorus of well-deserved approval at the end. Kelly Apter

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Until 27 August

Pain and I **

Circa: Humans 2.0. PIC: Yaya Stempler.

Summerhall (Venue 26)

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For such a commendably accessible work – it can be experienced as a relaxed live performance with BSL interpretation, as an audio piece, or as a graphic score – Pain and I is actually frustratingly inaccessible. Glasgow-based artist and academic Sarah Hopfinger’s solo show is a fifty-minute experimental expression of her constant companionship with chronic pain, but its use of contemporary dance – Hopfinger, nude, spends much of the show wiggling around the bare stage – and repetitive monologue provides precious little to engage with. The best thing about it is Alicia Jane Turner’s exquisite score. An important show, but an alienating one. Fergus Morgan

Until 28 August

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Zoё **

Assembly Roxy (Venue 139)

Australian circus troupe A Good Catch returns to the festival with the international premiere of new show Zoё, a three-handed cocktail of acrobatics, clowning and physical theatre that is apparently a response to the world’s environmental and ecological crises. It does not distinguish itself like the company’s former fringe-hit Casting Off did, though, consisting largely of its three performers – Debra Batton, Sharon Gruenert, and Spenser Inwood – clambering over each other in outrageous, vaguely animalistic costumes for an hour, to a fidgety, doomy soundtrack. There is more spectacular circus, more coherent clowning, and more urgent explorations of the climate crisis elsewhere in the programme. Fergus Morgan

Until 14 August

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DONUTS *

Assembly George Square Gardens (Venue 3)

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The three dancers in this celebration of friendship and co-habiting clearly have skill. And the basic premise – that our relationships grow and evolve over time – is also a theme rich for the picking. Yet there is so little to work with here, for the performers or us. They sit on the sofa, get upset with each other, dance around excitedly for a bit, rinse and repeat. The knowing smiles and grumpy moods are all so insular, it’s like being a fly on the wall in a shared house where nothing particularly interesting ever happens. Which is a shame, as with more nuanced choreography at their disposal, these three performers could really shine. Kelly Apter

Until 14 August

BreAking ***

Dance Base (Venue 22)

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Choreographer Lee Kyungeun wants us to do things our way, to break away from conventions and live a little. It’s a message that his show BreAking tries to convey, with mostly strong results. An enjoyable coming together of dance genres, the piece is presented by five members of Korea National Contemporary Dance Company with three guest artists from the world of street dance.

Their styles may be different, but the performers gel together perfectly, each bringing the requisite energy to drive the show along. At first, they’re all stuck – walking back and forth, unable to escape the invisible wall surrounding them. By the end, they’re freestyling in the aisles, living their best lives.

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What comes in-between, is at turns dynamic and engaging but occasionally overly-laboured. Carrying around large sheets of Perspex, which they attempt to climb up or emerge from under, precious minutes of this relatively short (35 minutes) are eaten away that could perhaps have been better served. Because when the dancers dive into full-on choreography, this show really flies. Each performer exudes personality and there’s strong technique throughout, it just would have been nice to see more of it. Kelly Apter

Until 14 August

Collision ***

Assembly George Square Gardens (Venue 3)

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Six party-starters take to the stage, determined to have a good time and show you one, too. They mostly achieve their aim, pumping endless energy into this warm-hearted and fun show. Collision is the brainchild of Australian company Casus Creations – the people who brought circus hits Knee Deep and Driftwood to Edinburgh in previous years, but are now doing things a little differently. As such, this is a mix of circus skills, street dance and light comedy that’s high on friendliness if lacking some of the artistry of earlier shows.

The troupe bounces happily through a lively mix of routines, some stronger than others but always with a smile. Two insanely flexible performers execute an accomplished balancing act and, although a little faltering, a bow and arrow meets balloon trick is hugely impressive once it happens. A slick dance solo, featuring the unusual combination of Indian classical and street dance, feels new and fresh.

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So too a sassy and inventive segment in which a performer wears high-heeled boots on both their hands and feet. While the brief bursts of breakdancing are impressive and crowd-pleasing. There are tighter acts in town this Fringe, but the youthful spirit of this show carries it far. Kelly Apter

Until 28 August