Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Circus 1903 / Circa

Performers in Circus 1903

Yaron Lifschitz
Director of Circa

 Circus 1903 at Canberra Theatre, December 7 – 11, 2016

Circa: Creative Leaps (not faster horses) speech by director Yaron Lifschitz (Currency House Creativity and Business Breakfast, Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, Wednesday November 30, 2016)

Circus 1903
Produced by The Works Entertainment: Simon Painter (Creative), Tim Lawson (Executive) and Andrew Spencer (Co-Executive)

Director / Co-Creative Producer – Neil Dorward

Scenic Design – Todd Edward Ivins; Lighting – Paul Smith; Costumes – Angela Aaron
Composer / Arranger/ Musical Director – Evan Jolly
Orchestra: The City of Prague Orchestra recorded by Jan Holzner; Band: recorded by James McMillan and mixed by Simon Changer and Ian Wood

Puppets designed by Mervyn Millar and Tracy Waller for Significant Object, UK

Puppeteers: Chris Milford, Henry Maynard, Luke Chadwick-Jones, Nyron Levy, Jessica Spalis, Daniel Fanning

David Williamson – Ringmaster Willy Whipsnade (USA)
Yevgeniy Dashkivskyy and Yefrem Bitkine – Duo Flash (Kiev, Ukraine)
Richard and Richardo Rossi – Hermanos Rossi (Barcelona, Spain)
Lopez Family (Johan, Jonatan and Mariaiose Pontigo) – Los Lopez (Guadalajara, Mexico)
Anny Laplante and Andrei Kalesnikau – Lez Incredibles (Montreal, Canada)
Elena Gatilova – Lucky Moon (Odessa, Ukraine)
Florian Blümmel – The Cycling Cyclone (Stuttgart, Germany)
Senayet Assefa Amara – The Elastic Dislocationist (Ethiopia)
Francois Borie – The Great Gaston (Paris, France)
Artur Ivankovich, Petter Vatermark and AJ Saltalamacchia – The Flying Fins (Helsinki, Finland)
Alfonso Lopez and Maria Jose Dominguez Pontigo – The Perilous Perigos (Mexico)
Mikhail Sozonov – The Sensational Sozonov (Moscow, Russia)

Reviewed by Frank McKone
December 6

What a joy to be so thoroughly entertained by skilful performers of traditional circus acts, led by a magician not only of the usual kind but one who is such an effective actor.

There is an adage never to perform with animals or children.  The puppet elephants, of course, behaved as they should, but the children volunteers from the audience put Ringmaster David Williamson on his mettle.

“Do you believe in magic?”

“No,” said Alex, very firmly.

“Ah, a skeptic!” said Williamson the Magician.  “We need more of them.”

Yet we could all enjoy the way he played magic tricks with two girls and two boys, 5 – 7 years old, who found themselves laughing and as relaxed on stage as the rest of us were, in the auditorium, laughing at their antics.  Williamson is a great family-friendly clown – we all felt part of the family he created.

Not even Alex could have been skeptical about the physical acts where the risks were real.  One of the Los Lopez men came off the tightrope (with no safety net) while trying to land after jumping over Maria who hunkered down, balanced by holding a long cross-pole.  As he fell, he caught onto the tightrope, swung himself up to standing again, acknowledged the audience – and jumped over again, this time with success and to huge applause.

Similarly, either Richard or Richardo Rossi fell from his amazing backward somersault, crashing into either Richardo or Richard.  There was a mat to absorb the impact, but we (and they) were really worried that either Richard or Richardo was injured.

But Richardo and Richard took a minute to recover and went on to complete their act with an impossibly long continuous series of somersaults, once again to huge applause.

These were only two of the many tremendously suspenseful episodes that made this show great theatre.

The success of this show is not just in the gymnastic skills of the performers but in re-creating the atmosphere and positive relationship with the audience, based in the drama of suspense, the acknowledgement of success, and an all-pervading sense of humour – an atmosphere I remember from my childhood in the 1940s.  Childhood memories are never reliable, but I think I may have seen Charlie Cairoli and his famous white-face clarinetist partner, Paul Freedman, at the Blackpool Tower Circus.  I certainly remember much knockabout humour, stunning music and a white face with a conical hat.

In recent years on this blog I’ve reviewed Okham’s Razor: Arc, Memento Mori & Every Action… (UK aerial dances); Circolombia: Urban (city street life in Colombia); Yaron Lifschitz’s Circa work “S” (Brisbane), Flying Fruit Fly Circus (Circus Under My Bed) and Circus Oz (From the Ground Up and But Wait...There’s More).

Lifschitz’s breakfast manifesto began:

Over the past few months the world turned colder and less hospitable.  Brexit, the rise of fundamentalisms both east and west, the election of Trump.  Suddenly things I believe in seem out of key with the times.  Plurality, diversity, compromise, compassion now appear to belong to another, quainter era – a distant empire of decency.  Except that they are needed more than ever now.  There is a pressing urgency to ask more fearless questions, debate more savagely unpleasant truths and explore our own contradictions more robustly....And as an artist, company leader and a festival director, it is beholden on me to respond.

In re-creating the era of the mass audiences for circus in the early 20th Century, rather than making circus shows with modern social themes (From the Ground Up was about discrimination against Indigenous workers in the building trades in Australia, for example), or making what some may call “Art Circus” (such as Okham’s Razor and Circa), does Circus 1903 satisfy any of Lifschitz’s concerns?

In its way I think Circus 1903 does demonstrate plurality and diversity (actually, one of the Flying Fins – AJ Saltalamacchia – began his career in Flying Fruit Fly Circus), and more importantly showed compromise in the adaptability of the performers and the lighting and sound operators towards the audience reactions.  They played to and for the audience, never at the audience.

And even more important was the use of humour and interaction with the audience by David Williamson as Ringmaster.  He set, developed and maintained a warmth of feeling towards all that was going on in the different acts, coming to a climax, of course, when the baby elephant Karanga (Swahili for ‘peanut’) came on stage.  The ‘distant empire’ of decency and compassion was no longer so far away.

Lifschitz also spoke especially, in contrasting the small to medium theatre companies against the Major Performing Arts companies (who were exempted from the recent Australia Council cuts), about how Our reality is we live from hand to mouth, we fly economy, we search for opportunities....Henry Ford said that if he’d asked people what they wanted they would have said faster horses.  The heritage arts companies produce marginally faster horses, more expensively each year.  A modest increase in audience numbers here, a bail-out there.

He concludes by showing how important taking risk is, having after some 18 years built Circa into three companies touring Australia and internationally.  Risk, he says, is the oxygen of my world....We put extraordinary young men and women on stage in a way that every performance could be their last.  When things go wrong in circus, people can die.  Our risks are very real – artistically, physically and organisationally.

I am proud to dance with risk on a daily basis.  It is at the core of my art.  In risk is our hope.

In the end, despite the apparent difference between Circus 1903 and a Circa show, I’m sure The Works Entertainment Company appreciates my last quote from Yaron Lifschlitz:

Art may not solve problems but, as Susan Sontag notes, it can wear them down.  Art lifts our species, puts us in touch with our gods, encodes our memories and harnesses the collective imagination in service of our possibilities.  The act of making art is inherently hopeful.

That’s how I found Circus 1903.

David Williamson as Ringmaster
Circus 1903

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