‘S’, created by Yaron Lifschitz and Brisbane’s very own Circa Ensemble is a superb fusion of dance and circus, full of endless surprises and astonishing feats. Also opening in Edinburgh and Massachusetts on Friday night, the Wollongong audience reacted in awe with a breathless chorus of ‘oohs’ and ‘ahhs’. There is a three-person tower, a female performer bearing the weight of two of her male counterparts and performers balancing bowls of water on their heads while using their ensemble members as a human tightrope.

The piece begins with a sole dimly lit light bulb suspended from the roof with a female figure lying beneath. Kimberley Rossi is rhythmically stretched up, leading from her core, so that only her head and toes touch the stage, echoing each deep breath of the booming audio. The setting is perfectly juxtaposed by Libby McDonnell’s black leotard design against the glowing white diamond that is the raised stage, or seemingly the springboard for the endless propelled jumps and tosses.

Described as sinuous, seductive, sophisticated, sensual and savage, ‘S’ is inspired by the shape of the letter and its uses in plural form. This is fitting as Associate Director Ben Knapton said the work evolved from a fascination of the complexity of having seven acrobats on stage at the same time. “It was our dream to work with complex acrobatic languages and movement sequences,” he said. The result is a stage full of action. There are moments of hand-over-mouth anticipation as performers are tossed in the air or across the stage at impossible distances as the audience applauds every precisely executed manoeuvre.

The incredibly flexi Rossi astonishes the audience as she is lifted into the air while doing the splits and swung around by her feet, her hair just skimming the surface of the stage. In another nail-biting move, Duncan West supports a performer on top of his head, using only the profound muscles in his neck to balance, while Jessica Connell walks with the illusion that her toes are awkwardly missing.

Circus errs on the side of contemporary dance as the curves of the letter ‘S’ inspire the series of twisted movements, continuous flips and twirled throws with the dramatic tunes of the Kronos Quartet to accompany. Bodies fit together upside down and right way up, and remarkable three-person asymmetrical balances create striking shapes while stirring intense moments of disbelief. One can only imagine the discomfort of being held up by the roof of your mouth. A tower of people is abruptly dismantled as a performer runs and pushes the bottom link and the audience shrieks as the dancers fall from mid air only to save themselves with another role or flip.

Director Yaron Lifschitz imposes creative limitations on the dancers, with certain body parts fused for a sequence of movement. Brittannie Portelli moves with her hands fused together while executing cartwheels and rolls while Jessica Connell continuously rotates through a variety of splits with her hand fused to her foot. Connell, formerly of the Flying Fruit Fly Circus, also manages to spin a hula hoop on every limb as her fellow performers playfully taunt her with more hoops. As the men climb aerial drapes with bare chests, their muscular physique reaffirms their undeniable athleticism. 

‘S’ is a spectacular display of strength demonstrating what the human body is capable of with years of technical training. It showcases exemplary teamwork as I anxiously pray every performer has remembered their catching spot and specific hand placement to prevent the unthinkable. In their virtually non-stop performance, dancers push their bodies to their utmost limits and seamlessly recover from being tossed through the air, transitioning fluidly with energy and agility into another beautiful shape. Acrobatics blended with dance transcends the work through spatial boundaries and there is always something to watch on stage or in the air during the 80 minutes of uninterrupted thrills. ‘S’ is nothing short of superb and is an absolute must-see.