The Irish Times, UK
“One hesitates to start a festival off giving a five-star review, but this is truly outstanding.”
Le Clou Dans La Planche, France
“This very successful mix between dance and circus is certainly one of the wonders of this 2010 festival.”
The Guardian, Uk
“… knee trembling sexy, beautiful and moving.”
The Guardian, UK
“… something extraordinary. It’s breathtaking, beautiful and sexy: there is a remarkable sequence in which a woman in red stilettos walks all over a man’s body that says a great deal about sexual politics and even more about sadomasochism. But Circa is also astonishingly moving, its story of human co-operation and frailty emerging through an acro-ballet.”
Culture Northern Ireland, Uk
“Throughout the performance there is no dip in the quality, the spectacle, or the energy. Whether it is the elaborate hula-hooping, a dancer balancing entirely on a couple of splayed fingers or the complex and endlessly mutating stage pictures that Lifschitz creates, the audience at Circa are never anything but utterly hooked.”
The Irish Examiner, UK
“The artists stunning physical exploits are complemented by effective use of lighting, a wonderful music score, and a delicious mock-sadism the performers comically wear on their faces.”
Belfast Telegraph, UK
“ … Festival audiences might find themselves looking for wires and screens, so astonishing are some of the moves, all performed without dialogue. Movement is language for Circa, and the only sounds, apart from the soundtrack and the thump of bodies on the floor as the cast twist and tumble and turn, are the gasps of the crowd.”
The Arts Desk, UK
“ … in its sheer force of daring and corporeal ingenuity … it might become one of the Wonders of the World.”
The New York Times, New York
“Stripping the Big Top to Sublime, Nail-Biting Essentials: CIRCA, an Australian Troupe at Jacob’s Pillow”, New York, 22nd June, 2012
Contemporary circus shows are often dissatisfying affairs. Having stripped out many of the traditional elements that make a trip to the big top so pleasurable, they suffer from something of an identity crisis, padding their offerings instead with tedious emotional clichés and boilerplate design elements. Spectacle becomes schmaltz.
But this isn’t an inevitable trajectory. On Thursday night in the Doris Duke Theater at the Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival here, Yaron Lifschitz’s troupe, Circa, from Brisbane, Australia, presented an intimate performance (also called “Circa”) in which the startling, mercurial architecture of the body (and bodies) was the beautifully unadorned focus.
There were feats of strength and daredevilry, supported, if at all, by the most minimal of props. There were moments of high silliness. (Clowns don’t necessarily need face paint.) And there were, throughout, moments of sublime physical delicacy and subtlety.
The seven performers were dressed simply (slacks for the bare-chested men, leotards for the women, designed by Libby McDonnell). Jason Organ’s lighting was also happily straightforward, with spotlights occasionally evoking the happy business of a conventional circus tent.
The soundtrack, with songs by Aphex Twin, Leonard Cohen and Jacques Brel, also included interludes of quiet. This low-key framework created something almost like a rehearsal studio atmosphere, a sensation strengthened by the use of improvisation throughout — and, crucially, by Circa’s embrace of failure.
Rather than present packaged routines, these artists offered something far more satisfying: a continuing exploration of what their bodies could do, as well as what they couldn’t. When someone’s feet lost purchase on someone else’s shoulder, or a hoop fell to the ground in a spinning sequence, these didn’t feel like flaws, but like happy acknowledgments of human imperfections and vulnerabilities.
In this way the metaphorical aspect of the circus was never far from the surface. I kept thinking of those gorgeous lines from Paul Simon’s “Graceland,” about the girl who calls herself “the human trampoline”: “And sometimes when I’m falling, flying/Or tumbling in turmoil I say/Whoa, so this is what she means.”
This isn’t to say that there weren’t plenty of gasp-inducing stunts — only that the instances of struggle made them seem all the more marvelous. Lewis West spent moments balanced, impossibly, on a standing Freyja Edney’s head and outstretched arm, as if edging out onto a building’s ledge. Emma McGovern zoomed to the top of a rope, then let her body spiral rapidly back down, the rope twining and then unraveling from her limbs and torso. Darcy Grant worked his expressive fingers through a fluid snapping routine, and then bent down and raised his body into a seemingly effortless handstand, balanced on just a few of those very strong fingers.
And there were numerous tumbling, acrobatic sequences, bodies moving so quickly and fluidly that you wished for a rewind button, to understand exactly how a neck or a shoulder had managed to move in that way, how disaster had been averted. Everything, of course, was done without nets or harnesses; the risk was real, making the evening something of an exquisite nail-biter.
When it was over, the performers seemed none the worse for wear. Their audience, however, was happily wrecked.
“Bodies brought to the heel”, 12th May, 2012
No costumes, lion-tamers or narratives and certainly no big-tops, red noses or honk-honk bicycle horns. It is, though, a circus – one in which the seven performers get to the essence of what that means. As director Yaron Lifschitz says, by the end of a Circa performance, when those men and women line up on stage for applause, the audience can look them in the eye and say, “I know who you are.”
What is it about circus that gets to us, entices us into its arena? Lifschitz, who created the Brisbane-based Circa Ensemble in 2006 after many years in theatre, says his task has been to strip away the layers that have built up around the circus tradition. What is left is what circus performers can do: lifting weight, flying through the air, pushing each other beyond gravity, hanging off things. When that is choreographed, we are left with bodies, personalities, rhythms and sounds.
”The biggest shock when you see a Circa show is just how empty it is, how you have just these bodies in space,” Lifschitz says. ”We fill the stage with a great amount of warmth and emotion. What I wanted to do was go back to this raw connectedness and commitment to truth. We’re not doing anything that’s going to bullshit you: there’s no one dressed in lycra singing vocals and trying to make it sound meaningful. When you look at those seven performers you have a sense of having been on this human journey, knowing them as people – and that’s a revelation.”
Without giving away the special nature of the performance, he says it begins with somebody who throws themselves on to the ground in a ”difficult” way and tries to stand up. ”As anyone who has ever had too many drinks will tell you, we have a complex personal relationship to gravity.”
As it progresses, the show brings a sense of bodies cast up on a hostile shore, discovering their limits through amazing acrobatics. This is followed by intimate duo and solo scenes and complex group acrobatics. ”It sounds dreadfully boring,” laughs Lifschitz, explaining that narrative and circus simply don’t go well together – it is much better off with a more poetic sensibility, taking audiences to a heightened moment and engaging them.
Because Circa focuses so much on the body, it’s no surprise that at the end of the show, Lifschitz has a very sore cast on his hands. ”It’s dangerous, people get injured and things go wrong. And it is also emotionally difficult, you have to pour yourself into the roles and you have to do so at an extreme limit. The roles don’t give you any room to hang around and muse on how pretty you’re being – they really require every tendon, muscle and part of your psyche. Which I think is one of the secrets of success of the work, it doesn’t muck around – it takes you to a very strong, risky place very quickly.”
Lifschitz says there are loads of reasons to not go and see theatre. ”It’s risky, you have to park your car, you have to get a babysitter, it’s often cramped, the drinks are overpriced. The only reason I can see why you’d actually deal with it on a regular basis is because there’s this possibility there might be this empathetic connection between you and another live human being in a shared space.
“You’re going to breathe the same air, your heart is going to skip a beat at the same moment of risk or excitement or explosion. Deep human empathy and connectedness is what happens at its best in the theatre.”
Belfast Telegraph, UK
“A flying circus of dance and amazingly physical theatre”, 2010 Circa Waterfront Studio, Belfast, 26th October, 2010
Roll up, roll up … the circus is in town! But banish any thoughts of clowns, fire-eaters and performing tigers. This is circus for the 21st century, where the magic is stripped bare and served up by “seven impossibly perfect bodies”.That’s how director Yaron Lifschitz describes the performers in Circa, the Brisbane-based company hailed as one of the most dynamic forces in new circus.
The cast combine dance with physical theatre to produce a combination of acrobatic and tumbling sequences which make up a show that’s extraordinarily energetic, powerful and sexy.Circa has been re-inventing circus as an art form for almost five years, and has performed in more than 18 countries, leaving audiences exhilarated at just what the human form can do.
Lifschitz has described how the shows evolve — he takes all the things people do in circuses, “from jumping on each other, doing acrobatics, bouncing on their hands, hanging off trapezes, flying through the air, tumbling … all the languages of circus … to re-imagine these as the palette for making extraordinary works of performance”.While in Belfast the company will be performing Circa, a remix of three previous works. Festival audiences might find themselves looking for wires and screens, so astonishing are some of the moves, all performed without dialogue. Movement is language for Circa, and the only sounds, apart from the soundtrack and the thump of bodies on the floor as the cast twist and tumble and turn, are the gasps of the crowd.
These performances provide a commentary on modern life — on the relationship between men and women and the risks and co-operation necessary for us all to survive when the chips are down.
They show men behaving madly, and women behaving badly. There are moments of trust and tenderness, as one dancer balances on another’s head, and two performers grasp the wrists of a third before gently lifting her towards the ceiling. “When you get people together with extraordinary skills, something extraordinary happens,” says Lifschitz.
Many of the vignettes created are sexy ones — a woman in red stilettos walks across a man’s bare chest; a man lifts his female partner up by her mouth — while others are surreal, scary or just, as one critic put it, “knee-tremblingly … beautiful and moving”. Not a one-trick pony in sight.
The Gaiety – CIRCA
Padraic Killeen, 2010 Circa The Gaiety, Ireland, Irish Examiner, 4 October, 2010
Words can’t do justice to the visceral experience of watching a Circa performance. The Brisbane-based troupe of acrobats and contortionists push contemporary circus to the limits of poetic expression, conjuring an exhilarating lyrical energy from the thrilling movements and timing of their limber bodies. By some black magic or other, this energy is then channeled directly to your own body as you sit there bobbing anxiously in your seat. Muscles that you never knew you had kick into gear, twitching in giddy sympathy with the performers.
Among the show’s highlights is a frenzied piece in which the seven physical artists onstage climb, leap, and balance upon one another in a breathtaking display of grace and danger. As the climatic strains of Icelandic rock act Sigur Ros reach a crescendo, this spectacular sequence finished with two of the men flinging a woman through the air into the arms of another man who – in the same controlled and elegant movement – hoists her body above his head and one extended arm.
“Oh Lord!” was the loud, exhausted gasp of one audience member when this piece finished. But ‘Oh Lord!’ moments of this order abound. The artists’ stunning physical exploits are complemented by effective use of lighting, a wonderful music score, and a delicious mock-sadism the performers comically wear on their faces. You’ll never be able to listen to Leonard Cohen without picturing a woman in stiletto heels walking all over sensitive areas of a man’s body while the two are twinned in a delicate physical balance. An astonishing show.”
The Gaiety – CIRCA
Christine Madden, 2010 Circa The Gaiety, Ireland, The Irish Times, 2 October, 2010
Dublin loves drama, and festival audiences do like a bit of rough. And the Circa ensemble certainly delivers much rough and tumble in its presentation for Dublin Theatre Festival. Known to Irish audiences through previous appearances at Galway Arts Festival, they in no way disappointed their Dublin audience, which gasped, sighed and groaned at the extreme physicality presented to them.
In a show as muscular as its performers, the acrobats adeptly built on each wow-factoring display, first smacking themselves off the floor, then climbing up and over each other, the audience biting their nails wondering if that acrobat standing on another will break her leg, break her back or snap her neck (while balancing on her head).While one stands on the shoulders of another, they fall over in a perfect line, only to spin out in synchronised somersaults, like two waves rolling over each other. One female acrobat somehow slips in and out of a metal ring that seems the size of your granny’s embroidery hoop, another keeps so many hoops spinning around her, she starts to look like Saturn.
The incredible physical training behind all this is most apparent in the comparison between the large and small acts. Muscles ripple as acrobats tie themselves in knots on a rope suspended from the ceiling, yet arms ripple like smoke in the wind, reminiscent of the ballerinas’ wings in Swan Lake.
A male acrobat who can balance on only three fingers from each hand also made his hands undulate like a sea creature. One hesitates to start a festival off giving a five-star review, but this is truly outstanding.
The Art Desk
James Woodall, 2010, Circa The Barbican, London, The Arts Desk, 12 March 2010
One of the daily tragedies of being human is that notions in our heads of unaided flight, levitation – any thought of lift-off from our material horizon – lie in drastic disproportion to what flesh and muscle permit. As children, we dream of flying, or living, say, on ocean floors without gas-tanks. As adolescents, we dream of many things, most of them impossible. As adults, sportspeople and dancers strain to defy nature, but never do. Most of us go on to live resignedly alongside, or inside, nature, glum in the knowledge that our “machine”, as Hamlet terms his mortal frame, will of course wholly fail.
I note this with some feeling, as this week alone I’ve managed to stub a big toe badly and shatter its nail from the outside in, then, yesterday, to rick my right calf in a storming walk toward to my bank (RBS, since you ask) in central Cambridge – where you can’t park – to complain, rowdily, after a new card had malfunctioned for the 15th time. It was thus with positive awe and a growling awareness of my late-40s decrepitude, to say nothing of fury at the limitations of the material world, that I watched Circa last night at the Barbican.
Circa is a Brisbane troupe of 20-something performers who do things on stage Health and Safety should probably proscribe – but the BITE (Barbican International Theatre Events) season is a daring entity, and thank God for it. (This time last year I was watching, in BITE, Romeo Castellucci’s Purgatorio, featuring a father’s rape of his prepubescent son in possibly one of the most demanding, viscerally challenging pieces of drama I’ve ever attended.) Circa’s four boys and three girls career, undulate, explode, entwine and reverberate in an hour-plus of stage hedonism which, in its sheer force of daring and corporeal ingenuity, might – once they and I are serious dust, and as long as someone’s recorded it – become one of the Wonders of the World.
Let’s be clear about what Circa is not. Though the performers might pay tribute to circus, there’s no “circus” here: no flames, no hurdles, mercifully no animals, no paraphernalia. No clowns. The guys, in cotton trousers, are bare-torsoed; the girls are in swimsuits. That’s it (plus music: electronica, Jacques Brel, Leonard Cohen, Radiohead). Their show – OK, there’s also a bit of trapeze- and rope-work – is an exhibition of trust and understanding. Without them, there’d be no show.
One guy can climb on to the shoulders of one of the girls, and then almost stand on her head with both feet – he doesn’t quite manage it – because they know they can try it: they’ve done it before, and elevation on his colleague’s skull with one foot is scary and extraordinary enough.
Another girl can fling herself high from the arms of colleagues across at least a metre knowing she will be elegantly caught – and it will be theatrical. These lunatics know exactly what they’re doing.
Individuals come into their own. One guy keeps us entranced with his fingers, just his fingers, clicking (audience clicks along), sculpting, playacting; then, after a couple of experiments at standing upside down on the same fingers, first five, then three, he tries to hold himself up with just one on each hand. We know each will break. It doesn’t happen. It shouldn’t. We’re relieved. This is theatrical.
A girl comes on with obscenely high heels – red, potentially lethal. A boy’s there, prone, and she walks all over him: spine, shoulders, inside of his thighs. Sexually, it’s exploitative. Technically, it’s riveting. Much of what Circa does is actually a tad troubling, but it’s all so witty and so beautifully controlled, and so flipping skilful, that a lack of subtlety can be forgiven. Almost.
A review attempting to evoke the sheer bloody exuberance of Circa’s work is bound to shortchange them, but they need to be told that 1) they aren’t dancers – no circus, but no choreography either – and 2), with these talents, they could surely create something thematically meatier. But this creaking curmudgeon came out into a chill March night feeling, nonetheless – well, knowing, having just witnessed it – that the human body is capable of joyful, fearless defiance. Next time round, Circa, please: more matter.
Australian Times, UK
Lesley Slade, 2010, Circa The Barbican, London, AustralianTimes.co.uk, 15 March 2010
Aussie export Circa tumbled into town with an impressive display of high calibre artistry, acrobatics and amazing feats.
Barbican – March 11
Gasps from the audience were clearly audible while the seven-strong cast of Circa performed at London’s prestigious Barbican Theatre on March 11, making the physically impossible possible on stage.
The captivated crowd was treated to a jaw-dropping contemporary performance of dance and acrobatics from the touring ensemble.
Hailing from Brisbane, Circa has built a formidable reputation for stripping back circus to the bare elements, choosing instead to focus purely on the incredible capabilities of the human body.
From jumps, to stunts, tricks, kicks and lifts, the performers writhe across the stage in a visual spectacular. Circa melds contortion, flexibility, strength and impeccable timing. Bold movements are mixed with subtle, intricate expressions of the human body, which gives the performance a nice even flow.
Consisting of three females and four males, the show revolves around the human interactions but also incorporates ropes, aerial silks, mime, hoops and trapeze. The physicality of the show is clearly demanding – a huge testament to the muscular, ripped bodies on stage.
Watching one of the male performers balance precariously in a one-handed handstand, on top of a female counterpart’s head, is nothing short of amazing. But don’t worry, the girls give as good as they get. Be prepared for a sequence of lifts and tricks involving a woman in stiletto heels and her bare-chested, yet brave, partner.
Circa gets it right, even down to the lighting and music. Spotlights and shadows are playfully weaved in amongst a soundtrack of instrumental string music, guitar, chaotic electro and songs performed in French. The heady mix works well. It enhances the show without taking too much away from the lyrical performances.
With an 80-minute running time the show flies by in an instant, and you might have to nurse stinging palms after continuous rounds of applause and standing ovations.
Circa is brilliantly imaginative. The company has performed in 18 countries since 2006 and more international tours are booked well into 2011.
Watching from the audience, you can’t help but feel a sense of pride for this Australian success story. It’s pure entertainment and proves just what the human body can do when pushed to creative extremes.
For a show that involves eye-popping contortions and making the physically impossible possible, you sure hope the travelling entourage includes a chiropractor or two.
Circa: Circus in Extremus