Circa @ Barbican Theatre, London

Circus is one of a number of traditional artforms that seemed in danger of being lost, dismissed, forgotten.

Yet it’s proved more resilient than most, spawning a new wave of acts and companies, Circa being one of these.

Combining traditional tricks and moves with wackier offerings, sprinkled with some adult humour and a good lashing of loud, unconventional music (drum and bass, anyone?), the show – confusingly the same name as the company – is, simply put, a series of stunts.
These range from low-level things like headstands and cartwheels right up to the more impressive, crowd-pleasing, audience-aweing trapeze and rope work. But it also goes further than that. Circa tries to break away from conventions by working contemporary dance into its performances, moving this art form away from its outdated preconceptions.

Unfortunately, next to all the seemingly impossible things they do with their bodies, these dance movements look almost mundane. One section where all the performers dance on stage together felt more like a filler to provide a break for the cast rather than anything more meaningful. But then, you dont go and see Circa and expect Rambert.

Most of the time, dance maintains a backseat, providing a contrasting softness to the harsher, acrobatic moves. And there are some beautiful moments, such as a leap that began with great, powerful force but ended in a surprisingly elegant way, or how preparations for a dangerous lift were worked into part of the dance, with the performer slowing and tenderly grasping each of her partners hands.

In an attempt to create more of a performance than simply one act after another, there are sections where different groupings perform separate stunts on stage together to create an interesting dynamic. It was hard to watch everything, despite the fact that the stunts were all equally impressive (though this was rectified later on, when groupings ran on and off the stage in between, creating a frantic but gripping visual effect).

What tied the different segments together is a running theme of foreignness and strangeness. Right from the start, the performers, who repeatedly dive onto the ground as if their bodies were made of playdough full of strange angles, trembles and out-of-control jerks act like they were diseased, or possessed, placed on an alien land. This idea is loosely developed into a relationship angle, where different types of love played out amongst strangers.

And its strange just how much a series of stunts could convey. The section where several couples are locked in gravity-defying balances that are projected onto the backdrop as shadows was surprisingly poignant. Nor does Circa disappoint in create stunning imagery. One particularly memorable scene involved a woman in scarlet stilettos walking all over her partner (literally and symbolically), like a sadistic torturer, as we hear the sounds of Leonard Cohen singing, I came so far for beauty. Shows dont come slicker than this, with some moments that simply beggar belief. Just dont go expecting lions jumping through hoops of fire.

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