“… just astonishing physical mastery.”
The New York Times, USA
CIRCA is a stripped-back creation for seven performers, remixed from three of the company’s most acclaimed works. Internationally praised as a work of physical poetry and beauty CIRCA has toured to 16 countries. Flexible, scalable and capable of playing 600-1600 seat theatres, this is Circa’s most accessible and engaging main-stage work – the perfect show to bring Circa’s sophisticated sensibility to wider audiences everywhere.
World Premiere 2009
Duration 75 minutes
Touring History Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Buenos Aires, USA, Canada, France, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Croatia,Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, UK
Created by Yaron Lifschitz with the Circa Ensemble
Director Yaron Lifschitz
Technical Director /Lighting Designer Jason Organ
Stage Design Yaron Lifschitz and Jason Organ
Costume Design Libby McDonnell
International representation (please credit as appropriate)
Paul Tanguay (Worldwide)
David Lieberman / Artists’ Representatives (USA)
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.
Claudia La Rocco, The New York Times, “Stripping the Big Top to Sublime, Nail-Biting Essentials: CIRCA, an Australian Troupe at Jacob’s Pillow”, published June 22, 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.
Andrew Stephens, The Age, “Bodies brought to the heel” Published May 19, 2012 http://www.theage.com.au/entertainment/stage/bodies-brought-to-heel-20120518-1yvbq.html
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.”
Kathryn Greenway, The Gazette, “C!RCA earns its exclamation point”, published February 7, 2012 http://www.montrealgazette.com/entertainment/move-guide/earns+exclamation+point/6167281/story.html
C!RCA is the company’s name. C!RCA is also the name of the Australian troupe’s show, now playing at Tohu.
Easy to remember and, following Wednesday’s opening night performance, impossible to forget.
C!RCA is a sophisticated creation infused with strength, grace and emotion. Artistic director Yaron Lifschitz knows exactly what he’s doing. So do his seven artists.
Don’t expect big costumes, spectacular sets, flamboyant makeup or bizarre clowns.
In fact, there is little in the way of accoutrement. Wednesday, it was bare torsos and simple spandex pants for the men. Grey leotards and bare legs for the women.
White spotlights and golden shadows helped frame the action but did not distract.
Circus trappings were kept to a minimum – a double cord, a single rope, a fixed trapeze and two balancing apparatus.
Music shifted from melancholy jazz, to languid classical riffs, to sternum-busting industrial roar.
The stage was never empty, one vignette flowing into the next, often involving a supple mix of tumbling, feats of balance and strength and contortion.
What sets this spectacle apart from other contemporary circus shows is its outstanding, almost sculptural, mix of post-modern dance and circus artistry.
These artists didn’t just do tricks together. They extend their body lines to the fullest, point their feet and transition from one position to the next with the purest of grace.
There were moments Wednesday when you swore you were watching a top-notch contemporary dance performance, albeit with a far more dangerous combinations of moves.
There were moments of whimsy and quiet humour and there were moments so risky, so precisely timed, that your heart would skip a beat.
And always, there was a sense of connection between the performers.
Relationships of all sorts played out onstage, including one particularly powerful duet featuring Emma McGovern in blood-red high heels and abs-of-steel partner Lewis West. Let’s just say there was much sado-masochistic pressing of stiletto heels into West’s bare chest, bare back, bare shoulders. Ouch.
Montrealer Valérie Doucet was the only other woman in the cast. This is her first tour with the company and her sense of calculated abandon and expressive face were a perfect fit.
Contortionist Jarred Dewey and fellow artists Darcy Grant, Scott Grove and Casey Douglas each had their moments to shine, but what really stood out with these artists was their sense of ensemble, their unconditional trust, their seamless physical dialogue. They flipped, hovered, balanced, lifted, tossed and dangled in every possible combination.
How thrilling, indeed.