It is a thrill to be back in Australian theatres, and it could not have begun with more fireworks than the exhilarating Circa, directed by Yaron Lifschitz and co-commissioned by Merrigong Theatre Company. Sacre is electric from the moment silhouettes scurry across the Illawarra Performing Arts Centre stage in barely-there lighting. Pulsing sounds zap at your ears, giving you the dizzying feeling of going up the lift of a skyscraper too fast. The audience is forced to squint through the darkness and fixate on the figures – we’re instantly three steps behind. From there, it’s a fast-paced, fluid, masterpiece that rejects gravity, embracing every possibility of the human form.

A blend of contemporary dance and acrobatics, the bendy performers seem to be made more of rubber and elastic than skin and bones. They are seamlessly launched into the sky and lowered in beautiful waves of energy – carried and dropped – but contorted into tangled, flowing shapes in the process. With blink-and-you’ll-miss-it precision, performers are stacked into three person towers and then quickly dismantled, without a flinch. Ensemble members launch themselves at each other at full speed, before disappearing through their partners legs, sliding down their back upside down or using unconventional body parts for leverage. In one bicep-snapping manoeuvre, a dancer climbs up another’s torso and stands flat-footed on his bended forearms, in an unbelievable display of strength.

There’s plenty of gasping through gritted teeth moments for the audience, during the 65 non-stop minutes of thrills. A lone performer stands emotionless in the centre of the stage as acrobats are hurled over her head, slicing through the air in frightening near-misses. A dancer stacked on another’s shoulders tips forward from a height and plummets head-first towards the floor, saving his fall at the very last moment by landing on his feet.

I would say the acrobatic choreography is reckless endangerment of life, if I didn’t believe we were witnessing superhuman skill – the only way it can be described. One foot or even a finger placement wrong could send towers tumbling down into a pile of broken limbs. The performers physical prowess knows no height and gender boundaries, with smaller female performers carrying multiple male counterparts at once in an astonishing display of strength.

Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, haunting and suspenseful, is paired with music by Philippe Bachman, interspersed with powerful accents. Electric zaps and gunshot-like explosions drive the drama, while the sound of birds add lighter moments of intrigue. The dancers’ hair is roughly braided or tied in buns rather than slicked back, and they perform in long black skirts, silk dresses and even suit jackets. Designer Libby McDonnell’s costumes are hardly conducive to the expert lifts required, making it almost more impressive that the performers can manage to grip and not get tangled in ponytails and swinging skirts.

It is obvious the seamless performance is the product of gruelling training, years of strengthening work, much acrobatic trial and error and meticulous teamwork. The weight the performers can shoulder is truly remarkable and their balance is awe-inspiring. One dancer climbs up a staircase of hands as ensemble members passed her feet along, as they gradually stand up. Two person towers eerily float across the stage, before collapsing into each other in a mid-air balance of intertwined bodies.

The circus mastery, physical brilliance and risk-taking choreography is what makes Circa a stand-out on the international stage. It’s dance with its own unique flavour, stretching movement capabilities with each electric encounter. In a time where much of our lives are limited, it’s an inspiring awakening of what’s possible.


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