While the Fringe offers ample cerebral entertainment with oodles of wit, wisdom, parody and jest, Circa leaves its audience awestruck, demanding a complete suspension of reason. In many ways, it is the essence of entertainment, offering audiences escapism, leaving them wowed and flabbergasted by a troupe of Australian gymnasts-cum-dancers defying the laws of physics. The audible, collective intakes of breath and spontaneous mid-act rounds of applause are testament to the wonder of Circa’s 2013 offering, Wunderkammer.
Circa succeeds not just in dazzling but also in moving “the heart, mind and soul”, as it set out to when it was formed in 2006. The balance between death defying leaps and tumbles and the use of the isolated movement of individual body parts makes Wunderkammer more than a series of circus acts, as it often tips into the realm of contemporary dance. Though there is no narrative, the inspired choice of music, from Bach to Peter Gabriel, offers more than enough scope for interpretive movement.
The use of neon lighting and burlesque-like costume lends the whole performance a sense of underground secrecy, a feeling that, despite the large venue and the hordes of tourists, we are watching a group of performers stretching themselves beyond the possibilities of daylight reality because no human body should be able to contort and balance and lift as these do.
With a mixed group of performers it would have been easy for director Diane Stern to have choreographed 60 minutes of muscular men throwing about tiny, slender women but she is surprisingly democratic in her staging. Though there is a some tossing of the female performers about like proverbial Scottish cabers, Freyja Edney’s solo act, in which she is lumbered with tens of metal hula hoops, was equally impressive.
Though the female performers exhibit equal levels of strength and endurance, it is Todd Kilby and Lewis West who use their Grecian physiques to best effect, climbing up, falling off, throwing themselves at and tumbling over each other on a pole erected at centre stage. In an age of so many distractions, to sit in a room of people mesmerized by two other people demonstrating the seemingly limitless ways the human form can be used to demonstrate strength and beauty on a pole was a unique experience.
Not to say that there aren’t moments of canny staging too, such as Alice Muntz’s encounter with a sheet of bubble wrap. Of course, coupled with the costume, there is a clear reference to fetishism but what is more entrancing than the message is the use of sound. Again, Circa delights in its small moments as well as its grand ones, as each pop of a bubble sends a shiver through Muntz, the audience waits on tenterhooks before she breaks into a sort of tap dance.
While some might turn their nose up at an act like Circa as appealing to a Britain’s Got Talent generation that sees the arts existing to be viewed and not to be engaged with, Wunderkammer cleverly delights the senses and in doing so moves the heart in a way that is rare for a circus act.