Many circus acts are centuries old, and audiences today may well be watching the same feats of extraordinary skill as their forebears enjoyed. Tumbling, trapeze, acrobalance et al. are all familiar acts to audiences; the key in performance is framing these into a show — be it the grand spectacle and quasi-mysticism of Cirque du Soleil or the rawness and raggedness of Acrobat.
Circa, an exciting Brisbane-based company, have made the fearless decision to strip most of the framing devices away. In their self-titled show, they keep the stage empty, employing a simplicity in costume and lighting design and a direct focus on the human body itself. There are no words, no narrative, no characters, and an aesthetic of clean, bright and unforgiving bareness.
The challenge for the piece, and director Yaron Lifschitz, is to build an insistent rhythm and allow shifts in tone that keep the audience continually engaged, without the show becoming a series of disparate set pieces.
CIRCA mostly succeeds. The piece begins with the ensemble of three women and four men building, through tumbling and floor acrobatics, a crescendo of activity. Performers bombard the stage, with multiple points of focus occurring simultaneously. The music is loud and thumping, though the sound quality is often frustratingly poor.
Individual acts follow, featuring the stunning specialised skills of the artists. The highlights include a particularly painful sequence featuring a pair of red high heels and a bare male torso.
Generally, the risky and dangerous sequences are more successful than the comedy acts. After an international tour of 22 cities, the company is a tight ensemble with an unflagging energy over the 75-minute show.
It’s certainly very sexy stuff. It’s tempting to read into the acts a meaning — gender politics, for example, or the relentlessness of contemporary living — but it’s equally possible to appreciate much of the show as entirely abstracted bodies in space.
CIRCA is an enjoyable night that doesn’t break new ground in circus art, but the show’s momentum is strong enough to maintain the audience’s attention throughout. The human body is endlessly fascinating and this production provides a welcome opportunity to gawk at it in wonder.
The details: CIRCA is in the Merlyn Theatre at the Malthouse Theatre until June 10. Tickets on the venue website.