If you can still get tickets for Circa’s new show S at Théâtre du Nouveau Monde, I suggest you do so. Part of Montréal Completement Cirque, this performance was jam-packed with style, charm and humour; interesting enough for the aficionado, accessible enough for the neophyte. I was quite smitten with this Australian troupe and I’m going to tell you several reasons why.
Ordinarily a piece of contemporary circus like this might run the risk of becoming a glorified rhythmic gymnastics routine, especially when you dispense with all the elements of traditional circus (Sequins! Lions! Plate-spinning! Tightrope!) and make a bunch of black Lycra-clad bodies the absolute and unequivocal focus. Set to music by the Kronos Quartet, S features a cast of three women and four men from a variety of backgrounds, including synchronized swimming, classical and contemporary dance, gymnastics, Australian Rules Football, and firefighting. What they have in common is their powerful physiques and their willingness to push the rules of gravity – and perhaps sanity.
Beginning with a simple hanging light bulb and the sound of rising and falling breath, Jessica Connell embarked on some spidery contortions before performing pointe work in bare feet (ouch?). It’s a slow build in near silence but the pacing feels spot on. Soon enough, however, the artful tumbling and daring stunts take over. More performers join her onstage, without nets or harnesses, rendering the risk real and making the show exquisitely harrowing for the audience. Throughout the show I heard audible gasps and cheers around me as the performers stood three-high on one another’s shoulders, using fellow performers as human skipping ropes and throwing each other around like they were nothing more than sacks of potatoes.
As well as exhilarating, nail-biting acrobatics are moments of comedy and silliness – mostly coming from the performers gently torturing one another (“Oh, you find that tricky? How ’bout if I stand another meter back? Will you jump from there?”). That said, one of the most nerve-wracking scenes involved zero danger: it was simply the acrobats balancing open bowls of water on various parts of their body and climbing all over each other in the manner of a human bridge. No bowls were dropped (although a few splashes here and there attested to the veracity of the stunt and somehow made it even more satisfying).
There were some segments dedicated to the accoutrements of circus arts: aerial tissues that the troupe use in innovative ways – one performer slides face first down the length of the tissue, squeezing two others out the bottom like a tube of toothpaste – and some Chinese straps and a section in which Connell dazzles the audience with her six hula hoops routine.
Yaron Lifschitz’s troupe is well balanced in terms of physicality but each have qualities that are distinctly their own. Kimberley Rossi’s elastic limbs, Brittannie Portelli’s sense of fun and theatricality, Robbie Curtis’ dynamic and dancerly approach to the choreography, the way Casey Douglas eats up the space. The audience acknowledged Circa’s collective efforts at the end with a standing ovation – people almost swooshed to their feet involuntarily. I love it when that happens, don’t you?
All in all, this was an incredibly enjoyable evening of honest, raw work. It’s not a colourful epic spectacle in the style of Cirque du Soleil. Neither is it dark and stormy contemporary dance. Go see it if you are curious about where the circus arts can go to from here. It’s entirely possible that Circa could be a game changer.
S, by Circa, plays at Complètement Cirque to July 13. Go here for more details or call 514 866-8668.