Thursday, August 7, 2014
Circa “S” directed by Yaron Lifschitz
Canberra Theatre Centre, August 6-9, 2014
Reviewed by Frank McKone
In recent times I have seen Circus Oz: From the Ground Up (Australian Indigenous reconciliation theme on a building site); Okham’s Razor: Arc, Memento Mori & Every Action… (UK aerial dances); Circolombia: Urban (city street life in Colombia); and now Circa’s S (Australian work by Yaron Lifschitz “of philosophical and poetic depth from the traditional languages of circus”). All are examples of what is now being termed ‘contemporary circus’.
This genre is generally to be supposed to have been begun by Canada’s Cirque du Soleil and, according to Wikipedia was self-described as a "dramatic mix of circus arts and street entertainment". It is the largest theatrical producer in the world. Based in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, and located in the inner-city area of Saint-Michel, it was founded in Baie-Saint-Paul in 1984 by two former street performers, Guy Laliberté and Gilles Ste-Croix. But Circus Oz claims that Circus Oz was founded in 1978 as an amalgamation of two already successful Australian groups, Soapbox Circus and the New Circus.
The entertainment value of contemporary circus has made it a world-wide phenomenon, so the first quality to look for is the performers’ skills. The ensemble performing S are perhaps the best I’ve seen, not just because they perform each movement, on the floor or in the air, with more precision than I’ve seen from many Olympic gymnastic contenders, but especially because of the complex shifting required from one movement to the next in a highly detailed choreography, and because of the timing of the movement to create the mood changes of the piece.
S is different from the other three companies' work. Though closest to Okham’s Razor is style, S is not about telling stories. Okham’s Razor’s works that I saw were like three visual video artworks, using a storyline as the basis for each relatively short piece. S is one complete dance over 85 minutes, not structured around a storyline but as a work of changing moods as the figures experience a kind of lifetime. The images are not obvious, as if representing the reality of a life, but are highly abstract. The qualities of the physical movement as ‘scenes’ progress alter the mood on stage just as they do in modern dance. The work becomes a metaphor which we interpret through the feelings created in us. In other words, S is, as director Lifschitz hoped, a poetic work spoken in the language of circus.
Though life begins, as a figure is drawn upwards from the floor by a suspended glowing light (a ‘star’ perhaps), and life ends as the star, and the figure beneath, descends and dims to dark, the feeling of joy in life and satisfaction in so skilfully creating a life well-lived flowed off the stage for a warmth of applause and appreciation beyond what one might expect of a mere entertainment.
Circa’s S has taken ‘contemporary’ circus to a new level of artistry, and establishes the company firmly in the forefront of what is now a genre almost 40 years old. It, I think, takes its place alongside the new developments in dance-drama, or dance-theatre, that we see in the work of Kate Champion’s Force Majeure Dance Company in linking with actors and playwrights, such as in Food by Steve Rodgers. These new forms of stage work make Australian theatre an exciting place to be.