Circa Amazes with Jaw-Dropping Simplicity

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Circa’s self-titled performance at Meany Hall on Saturday, March 22, gave Seattle audiences a rare treat. The Australian company, directed by Yaron Lifschitz, has established a strong international reputation for its ability to present circus in a way that is both stunning and relatable. Moments of stillness were given the same weight and attention as moments of gravity-defying terror and precisely controlled displays of strength—and all of it produced wild responses from the crowd. Along with the wide range of physicality, the performance embraced the full range of human emotion. The result was a swinging trapeze of empathetic fervor—yanking the captive audience back and forth from safe flirtations to dark and dangerous longings.

Circa Photo by Justin Nicolas
Circa
Photo by Justin Nicolas

Part of the restless nature of the performance stemmed from the process by which the material was compiled from three past Circa shows, The Space Between, by the light of stars that are no longer, and FURIOSO. This assemblage, if done any other way, could easily have become disjointed, but the company masterfully skirted the potential threat, and used the sudden shifts in atmosphere to bolster the intensity of the emotional ride. The performers’ presence created a smooth link between the disparate vignettes, and something new always rolled in to take the place of the old, allowing each scene to blend into the next.

Each mood of the piece shone in equal brilliance, enhanced by the movement vocabulary and technical design. Olive-toned aerial sequences exuded dark hopefulness, peppy music accompanied flirtatious contortions, and flips and handsprings came out of nowhere with power and determination. One scene employed a theme of weight-bearing to characterize how cruelty can be mistaken for trust. In a duet, Brittannie Portelli climbed all over her male counterpart, standing on his back, his shoulders, even his outstretched hands in sharp, red high heels.

Circa Photo by Justin Nicolas
Circa
Photo by Justin Nicolas

At another point, sharp shadows from ever-changing white and black lights created a turbid landscape through which the performers rolled and tumbled. Both unsettling and transfixing, the constant evolution of the lights made for a nauseating and hypnotic picture. An intense segment of partnering followed, incorporating everything from human jump ropes to a two-story fall: one man stood on another’s shoulders and both toppled straight forward, the top man into the arms of two waiting performers. The troupe finished the set with a dramatic toss that sent Kimberley Rossi across the stage like a spinning circus diablo.

Rossi’s solo act, and others that followed, further expanded the range of experiences within the piece. Her spunky and utterly ridiculous routine of contortion landed in shocking and hilarious territory when she pulled a red elastic band through her nose and mouth with a wink. Casey Douglas’ gravity-defying handstand act, accompanied by 80s adrenaline tunes, attested to the excitement of triumph. And a final performance by Jessica Connell seamlessly melded the simple and unbelievable, a recurring motif in the show. Her flirtatious antics culminated in a striking feat wherein six hula hoops moved independently up and down her twirling frame.

Circa Photo by Justin Nicolas
Circa
Photo by Justin Nicolas

Some of the night felt like a glorified version of the summer Olympics—to its benefit. Many of the tricks were recognizable as vault or rings or floor routines, with an added element of surprise and creativity that made them familiar and new to the audience. There were times when the necessary preparations for circus stunts, like positioning spotters and setting up for long tumbling sequences broke the natural flow of the choreography, but the magic of the act always felt worth it. Nary a trick was performed without a purpose, without making some contribution to the feeling that our potential, as humans, is broader than we think. Circa’s run in Seattle was short, but they’re worth catching next time they roll in. For more information about the company, visit http://circa.org.au. For more information about UW’s World Series, visit http://uwworldseries.org.