“… a revolution in the spectacle of circus.”
Les Echos, France
Opus is a work of stunning power, virtuosity and poetry.
Fourteen acrobats and a string quartet celebrate the music of Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich.
Shostakovich’s quartets are by turns intimate, passionate, lyrical, ironic and deeply moving personal testimonies by one of the 20th Century’s greatest composers. In Opus, three of his quartets form the musical and dramatic spine of a red-hot fusion of extreme acrobatics, lyrical movement and group choreography.
Opus begins from a solo performer suspended on a rope serenaded by musicians, then moves through rapidly alternating scenes of dislocated stillness and violent explosions into geometries of acrobats intersected by extreme physicality to arrive at exquisitely detailed and nuanced choreographies of acrobats flying, balancing and landing.
Opus explores the complex relationships between the individual and the group, between the march of history and the dictates of the heart and between the tragic and the comic. This is groundbreaking work of intense power. A melding of music and bodies at the highest level.
World Premiere Lyon, France 2013
Performers 18 (14 acrobats, 4 musicians)
Duration 80 minutes
Touring History France, Spain, Australia, Germany, Luxembourg, UK, USA
Celestial Bodies Mario Cloutier, La Press – Montreal
22 November 2014, Translated by Lauren Herley http://www.lapresse.ca/arts/spectacles-et-theatre/critiques-de-spectacles/201411/22/01-4821498-opus-corps-celestes.php
Extraordinary, brilliant, great (genius). All of these words will be heard to describe the show Opus by the Australian company Circa. For once, itʼs all true.
Quebec has the privilege to be the home of some of the best contemporary circus companies in the world. Australia as well. Opus by Circa is the closest and only time we could confirm what we may describe as a master piece of circus arts. Contrary to what the ads say, however, it is not a breathtaking show not a representation “hit.” If you go to the circus for ‘oohs and ahhs’ and the clowns, this Opus is not for you. Especially if you dislike the music of Shostakovich.
This is an exceptional show in the history of circus because for the past ten years, companies have been trying to merge the circus arts to others. Be it music, theatre or dance. From what we have seen over time in this mecca world of circus in Montreal, Opus is simply the show that succeeds the best. Virtually flawless, except for two or three tempo slowdowns and total fluidity.
Welcome to the world of circus fusion! The approach is minimalist, the purpose also. The show deals with the difficulty of being a body. Pain, struggle, falling, joining others and triumph by the strength of a group.
Opus is not a sequence of numbers with spectacular highlights. Everything from the stage to lights, through the 100% Debussy Quartet musical performance, melts into a show. An experience that begins with a wave and continues at the discretion of brilliant body tides, to describe in one word would be celestial, (luminary, heavenly.)
The 14 stunning artists of Circa, mainly deployed on the ground on a black surface that reflects their image. Representation rarely rises into the air. Except for an act of aerial straps and two fixed trapeze pieces. Preferring to use natural gravity to create incessant balance choreography, hand to hand and acrobatics. Opus has fluidity, flexibility, and quiet strength – that seems effortless. There are many deliberate falls, sometimes violent but nearly all silent. Such as somersaults, twists dives and other stunts.
Actions are often simultaneously held in the front and back of the stage, with aesthetic concern of every instant, which emerges a true, evocative grace. Despite the appearance of simplicity; originality and the degree of difficulty of the circus techniques are very high. (In this piece, everything is in motion) The 14 artists drew a collective intelligence to even their spirit. Dance, acrobatics, physical theatre, poetic circus…these labels are no longer useful before such an artistic object of touching beauty.
Madeline Zimring, Daily Californian, USA“Circa acrobatic troupe soars to new heights at Zellerbach Hall” published 3 November, 2015 http://www.dailycal.org/2015/11/03/circa-acrobatic-troupe-soars-to-new-heights-at-zellerbach-hall/
A woman is hanging onto a rope, supported by just one quivering hand. A drop of at least 30 feet separates her from the hard, flat ground below. Slowly, she loosens her grip, her muscles slacken — something is about to happen. Suddenly, relinquishing the weight of her body to fate and to gravity, she plummets twirling downwards only to be stopped just short of the floor by the ropes ingeniously wrapped around her torso. The audience lets out a relieved chuckle. Although this all sounds dangerous, crazy even, tricks like these are all in a day’s work for the acrobatics troupe Circa.
Hailing from Brisbane, Australia, Circa is a group of acrobats at the forefront of innovation in contemporary circus. They have toured performing their award-winning works in 33 countries and across six continents since 2006, featuring the Debussy String Quartet as their full-time string ensemble. Their Thursday performance of “Opus,” brought to Zellerbach Hall by Cal Performances, came to fruition under the direction of Yaron Lifschitz. Those expecting the traditional circus fare of juggling gimmicks, trapeze tricks, gaudy face paint and even gaudier facial expressions were in for a surprise — one that happily shattered stereotypical conceptions of acrobatics. This was no superficially diversional, purely for shock-value show, but rather a truly cerebral exploration of the body, the tension between the individual and community and the physical embedding of history in the body. This was art at its finest.
“Opus” began by ushering its viewers into an ethereal, dreamlike state, with a massive expanse of fabric billowed and twisted over the stage floor. As the quartet (Christophe Collette and Marc Vieillefon on violin, Vincent Deprecqm on viola and Cédric Conchon on cello) struck the eerie opening notes of of Dmitry Shostakovich’s “Adagio for String Quartet,” they appeared to be suspended over the waves of some surreal, diaphanous ocean. The four musicians remained onstage for the entirety of the 80 minute-long performance, allowing the audience to witness the music as it was created and as it interacted with the 14 acrobats. Later in the performance, the quartet was actually blindfolded while the acrobats tumbled and flew around them; their bodies became the sensation of music, a physical manifestation of every note and every bow stroke.
In short, “Opus” was astounding, not just for the utterly miraculous physical feats it demanded, but also for the innovation and imagination in its choreography. A mixture of dance, aerial, acrobatics and storytelling, “Opus” also incorporated props like chairs, hoops and ropes. But, of course, the body was the featured spectacle — the troupe constructed a human staircase, giant arch and tall pillars, all with nothing but strength and a liberal amount of trust. The audience was rapt in nervous attention as the acrobats crawled gingerly onto one another to form stacks three people high or tossed each other like sacks of flour, and laughed every time a seemingly treacherous fall turned into a graceful and purposeful landing.
The most mesmerizing moments of the night, however, were not the eye-catching tricks, but rather more somber scenes when the interplay of music and motion came to life. The entire ensemble would be standing onstage, still and silent but for the lament of the violin, and then suddenly their bodies would explode into a frenzy of repeated leaps and flips, like water droplets jumping on a burning hot pan. With every series of diving somersaults or whirling flips, they looked less like human beings and more like agitated insects writhing and twisting in the air.
Nevertheless, this was not a performance lacking in humanity. It was humbling to witness the acrobats’ interaction with each other as well as with the audience. At one particularly beautiful point, the entire ensemble stood mesmerized as one woman performed a graceful sequence on aerial silks twisted like strands of DNA, elevated above the rest of the world as she ascended. Clumped together, no movement other than their own labored breathing; the audience became a single pulsing being, united in hope and awe at the astounding capacity of the human body.
Matt Trueman 2014, The Telegraph, “Opus, Circa & Debussy String Quartet, Barbican Centre, review ” published 19 February, 2014
Circus as high art? Surely not. It’s sawdust and sequins; car horns and custard pies. Musically, you expect drum rolls and screamer marches. Not Shostakovich string quartets.
That’s right. Yaron Lifschitz’s legendary Australian perfomance troupe, Circa, has joined up with the Debussy String Quartet to set acrobatics to Shostakovich and, in the process, they’ve refined away all the circus’s Big Top crudities. Opus is cut-glass, caviar circus. It’s black tie and ballgown circus. And it’s an astonishing thing to watch: graceful, bombastic. Profound. Even the simple collision of art forms is thought-provoking. Why is one high and the other low? What makes a musician virtuosic and a circus performer freakish? Here acrobatics looks as disciplined as ballet: all arched feet and hyperextension. Circus becomes poised and noble. Not unruly. Not cocksure.
Violinists start to seem sexy and fierce. Why does no one ever run away to join a string quartet, I wonder? Lifshitz does more than set circus to Shostakovich. That would make the music seem an arbitrary accompaniment. Rather, he interprets it as any balletmaster or opera director would. He lets you visualise the music. He makes you understand its structure. He quotes other artists – Pina Bausch and Robert Wilson – just as Shostakovich does.
Mostly, though, he matches the music’s internal tensions – airy, scratchy violins against leaden, anchored cellos – through choreography that’s fascinated by gravity. Bodies are flung around weightlessly: they spring and snap, fall and fly. Hula hoops hang in the air. Elsewhere, strong men haul one another into position.
They form human pillars, stacked three bodies high. The foundation men shake with the strain. Men lug women. Women lug men. The performers make monuments of one another, turning into great counterbalanced structures. One man scoops up three others and staggers offstage. The title is key. Opus means work, and that’s exactly what you see onstage. Four musicians, all in white-collar shirts, play their music – a work of art – amid the manual labour of these heavy lifters. It’s all about class. You see a populace, much like an opera chorus. They look like slaves or gladiators. They look ready to revolt.
There’s leisure too: playful sections that, with the performers in swimwear, call to mind sunny days at public lidos. A woman becomes a skipping rope. Bodies somersault in sync. Six men seem to dive through the exact same point in space at the exact same moment in time. You gasp, gasp and gasp again.
OK, blink and it can look like gymnastics, but then the music sweeps you up and away until the spectacle seems extraordinary. It’s like extreme ballet. You get the astonishment of great circus with the sense of transcendence more familiar in “higher” forms. I could go on, but you should probably just get on and book.
Fiona Maddocks 2014, The Guardian, “Circa and Debussy Quartet; Paul Bunyan review” published 23 February, 2014 http://www.theguardian.com/music/2014/feb/23/circa-debussy-quartet-opus-paul-bunyan-eto-review
A string quartet and a circus group take Shostakovich to astonishing new heights
Photographs of Dmitri Shostakovich invariably show a face of gloom. Yet Soviet Russia’s greatest composer had a wild side. He possessed a sharp ear for torch songs and jazz. He spun circus tunes into his scores. He was capable of dancing on pianos. He certainly couldn’t, however, do a one-handed handstand balanced on the back of a chair, swing from a trapeze by his toes, or fling himself across the stage like a flying fish, spinning in mid-air before flopping flat on the floor, and all of this to the live accompaniment of three of his own string quartets.
The contemporary circus group Circa have been doing just that all week at the Barbican. I’m still reeling. Real reeling is one of the things they can do par excellence, preferably several feet above ground in a human pyramid with the top person standing on someone’s head. This Australian ensemble has collaborated with the Debussy String Quartet in an evening so remarkable as almost to defy description.
Devised by Yaron Lifschitz and entitled, none too helpfully, Opus, the event began with the French virtuosi of the Debussy Quartet rising up from below the stage in darkness and playing, from memory, Shostakovich’s Adagio (Elegy) followed by the Quartet No 8. One by one the funambulists unfurled themselves in gestures that mirrored, rather than mimicked, the fugues, canons and cryptograms of the music. Their gestures were not descriptive or emotional, sexual or violent, but wholly abstract, as if purified in the cauldron of Shostakovich’s genius.
The best known of his 15 quartets, No 8 is one of the composer’s bleakest, written at a time of almost suicidal darkness in his life. The five-movement composition quotes earlier works such as the First Piano Concerto and the Second Piano Trio. The DSCH motif repeatedly occurs, to inscribe his own name (in the German notation) into the fabric of the music itself. In gymnastic counterpoint, the troupe hurled themselves about, now as loose rag dolls, now concertinaed or splayed like a printer’s leporello.
The combination of risk and physical wizardry seemed a perfect match for the music. As for the Debussy Quartet, their feat can hardly be overstated. To play three quartets – the others were No 5 and No 11 – almost entirely from memory to such a level of intelligence and musicality would already be beyond most players. To do so while walking around barefoot, sometimes blindfolded, with 14 bodies jumping and leaping dangerously just inches away, renders one speechless. The joint trust between all, acrobats and musicians alike, was extraordinarily moving. Shostakovich would have thrilled to every second.
Philippe Chevilley 2013, Les Echos, Lyon, translated by Terry McKinven “OPUS: a dream world of circus and music” published June 20, 2013 http://www.lesechos.fr/culture-loisirs/sorties/spectacles/0202842396853-spectacle-un-reve-de-cirque-et-de-musique-577873.php?xtor=RSS-2067
When the magic of circus and music unite… Circa and Debussy String Quartet give us a unique glimpse of grace with their show ‘Opus’, created with three of Shostakovich’s String Quartets and produced by Les Nuits de Fourvière.
Removing barriers between styles is no longer mission impossible. “Opus”, the creation of the Australian performance company Circa and Debussy String Quartet proves this. A perfect composition, it extends the territories of living art. Circa believes that circus acts need not mimic dance in order to blend movement with music; and that music, instead of being a simple soundtrack, is an organic element of the choreography. With the string quartets of Debussy (1, 8 and 15), the union of acrobats and virtuoso chamber musicians can be described as none other than sublime: mouth agape, the audience of Les Nuits de Fourvière, or “Opus” (which premiered worldwide on the 19th of June), experience it as if in a dream state.
The show starts, we see a boy suspended from aerial silks and we experience the dramatic drop of the acrobatic movement, combining well with the intimate but passionate arrangement of the Russian composer. Then, the thirteen other little stars of the troupe suddenly appear before us in a wave of black silk. Impeccable technique, dazzling choreography, physical power, the performance has everything…and it’s only just started!
Courageous pieces such as wobbling human towers, human treadmills, cross-jumping through human hoops…or iron hoops (subtle evolutions of trapeze tricks), and slender imposed figures on the edges of the stage as permanent fixtures are all pieces that can be seen in this non-stop “ballet”, created by Yaron Lifschitz, Director of Circa.
“Is he going to leave the String Quartet at the back of the stage?” Au contraire, the four musicians are actually incorporated into the action: playing amidst the acrobats, guided, even carried…and even condemned to playing blindfolded…a great way of celebrating their 21st anniversary since their formation. Their interpretation is galvanized by the elaborate choreography – their looks, their knowing smiles do not deceive. And however, not once does the String Quartet succumb to over or underplaying. Every part of ‘Opus’ is controlled, internalised.
Circus AND dance? Circus OR dance? – A conundrum that Yaron Lischitz has solved. If the dancers are birds, the acrobats must be cats – fierce artists performing moves sometimes sudden and discordant, not unlike certain passages of the score. In this piece, the musicians aim to express the unspeakable, desire and despair, and humans in general, something which gels perfectly with the fragility of the circus, its way of going beyond the limits and how the aspect of danger is welcomed openly. Circa’s artistry is abstract, with plenty of sharp angles, but also some rounded sections. There are moves never seen before and sudden and somewhat violent movements – they throw themselves on the ground, they launch themselves into the air, they love, they die and they come back to life.
In the first two string quartets, the atmosphere is rather blue: faces filled with loss, motionless bodies all merged into a strange arrangement (four intertwined acrobats forming an agonising statue). In the last string quartet, Circa makes the sun appear – fourteen boys and girls prancing along an imaginary beach, floating on the foam of the violins. The last image – the Debussy String Quartet and the troupe (on two highs) standing in line, directly in front of the audience – and with one last bow of the strings, the hearts of the audience are shattered beyond doubt. Among the raving applause are cries of adoration; and cushions thrown on to the stage are returned like boomerangs by the artists. Nobody wants to see the back of this Fourvière masterpiece.
We have tried as best as possible to describe, to you the reader, this extraordinary spectacle, which, in one hour and twenty minutes, invents a new trend of movement and sound. All that remains is for you to experience it yourself.
Good news: ‘Opus’, co-produced by several European institutions (from London to Barcelona), will soon be playing in France. As soon as next week, we will be able to see it as part of the festival ‘Printemps de Comédiens’, in the rural setting of Montpellier at the ‘Domaine d’O’. The celebration of bodies and feelings is just beginning.
Lyon Mag, “Opus: The Genius of Le Nuits de Fourviere” published June 20, 2013 http://www.lyonmag.com/article/54838/opus-le-coup-de-genie-des-nuits-de-fourviere
The ‘ballet’ Opus is scheduled to run until Friday at the Parisian theatre Odéon, as part of the Festival des Nuits de Fourvière.
Without beating about the bush, it is an unbelievable privilege for the Festival to welcome this spectacle for its world premiere. We are clearly in the presence of greatness. The Australian acrobats from the performance company Circa and the Lyonnais virtuosos of Debussy String Quartet join forces for the first time and the union works perfectly. Musically, the four French musicians have adapted the masterpiece of Shostakovich (oh how evocative!) specifically to suit a string quartet. Performance wise, the fourteen southern hemisphere athletes put on display their talent as dancers. Circa may be considered as a circus company, but its members are true dancers. The movements of their bodies interpret beautifully the emotions conveyed by the strings of the quartet.
The acrobats – well, they are all amazing. They pile on each other, they produce human see-saws, and we say to each another that their arms will not hold, but alas, this is not the case. And all of this unfolds with a heavenly fluidity, always matching the variations of the violins and violoncellos. The audience is unable to hold back their exclamations when, on the trapeze, the artists seem to come undone, spin around to fall into the arms of their awaiting partners who immediately carry on with far-fetched portés, jumps and body contortions never before seen. Ropes, rings…anything will impress, and the audience has no qualms about that.
Even the musicians are a part of the show, moving among the dancers or playing for long periods blindfolded, all while keeping a frantic rhythm, so frantic that one wonders how their strings or their bows do not break. When the violins sound the charge, initiating a series of quick movements, the dancers’ bodies fold in two, as if hit with a barrage of bullets. They have in their sights the heavens, the heavens of this ancient theatre, and their vehicle, the shoulders of strongmen or mind blowing jetés. These Australians are elite athletes, to the point that if they were to participate in the gymnastics at the Olympic Games, no-one would think them out of place. This show is monument, musically and choreographically.
Opus is still scheduled for Thursday and Friday evenings in the ancient ruins (10pm). A spectacle not to miss for any reason. Note: our colleague Laurent Odouard is currently working on a book that retraces the history of Debussy String Quartet, entitled ‘4 de coeur’.
Director Yaron Lifschitz
Technical Director/Lighting Designer Jason Organ
Costume Design Libby McDonnell
Set Design Yaron Lifschitz and Jason Organ
Debussy Sound Engineer Christophe Germanique
International representation (please credit as appropriate)
Paul Tanguay (Worldwide)
David Lieberman / Artists’ Representatives (USA)
A Nuits de Fourvière production/ Département du Rhône, coproduced with Les Théâtres de la ville de Luxembourg, GREC Festival of Barcelona, Le Cirque-Théâtre d’Elbeuf, Dusseldorf Festival, Barbican Theatre, CACCV Espace Jean Legendre-Compiegne. This project has been assisted by the Australian Government’s Major Festivals Initiative, managed by the Australia Council its arts funding and advisory body, in association with the Confederation of Australian International Arts Festivals, Brisbane Festival, Perth International Arts Festival and Melbourne Festival.
Circa acknowledges the assistance of the Australian Government through the Australia Council, its arts funding and advisory body and the Queensland Government through Arts Queensland. This project has been assisted by the Australian government through the Ministry for the Arts’ Catalyst—Australian Arts and Culture Fund. Quatuor Debussy acknowledge the support of the French Ministry of Arts, Région Rhône-Alpes, City of Lyon and SPEDIDAM
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