Lafayette, Underbelly Circus Hub, Edinburgh Festival Fringe; 4th August 2017
Extraordinarily skilled acrobats are a given these days in Circa‘s ever-increasing repertoire, but Humans also gives us a return to the extraordinary choreographic invention that wowed the world in their earliest shows. This is symphonic circus.
As the audience take our seats, a young man walks towards the rows of chairs, unbuttoning his shirt. If it weren’t for his bare feet and confident stance upon the square of marked stage, he could be one of us. Opposite, a woman begins to undress too, until both are in flesh coloured underthings. Downstage another man appears. Clothing is swapped, or left in small piles of shed identities. What would the world be like if we could get inside each other’s skins so easily?
There is a heat to this production, in the music, energies and gender-free costumes. The satisfying heat of a body well-used. One bundle of clothes reveals itself to be Bridie Hooper, contorting her way out of her garments as the music kicks in and the volume rises, silencing the audience. It begins.
Director Yaron Lifschitz‘ musical choices are characteristically witty, moving from celebratory folk fiddling, through the sentimentality of anthemic musical theatre, to contemporary compositions of crackles, clicks and slow, pulsing base that we feel through our seats.
A broad spot of light creates a ring in the black space, so wide it makes individual performers look small. They quickly join together, pairing for sequences of leaps or slides that exchange at a rousing pace. Cecilia Martin pops up onto a dance trapeze. This ten-strong company have all the tricks, and they rattle through them with a dervish joy.
Allowing tiredness to visit, Nathan Knowles strains to lay out small red balance blocks on a black mat. He’s a strong backbender, detailed down to his toes, and executes his routine like a pre-bedtime yoga stretch.
The common framing of circus artists as superhuman is deconstructed in an ensemble revelation of the genuinely impossible limits that restrain us all. Have you ever tried to lick your own elbow? It’s a comedic section and, if you want it to be, deeper than that too. The group find new ways of not-touching-the-floor as they form into line, along with their old favourites of head-stepping and hand-balancing. Knowles and Kimberley O’Brien duet with shapes and transitionary contact choreography I’ve never seen before. I squeal and contract as Keaton Hentoff-Killian leaps, outstretched, to narrowly make a roll that starts from the top of his head.
The concept of a circling parade of forward rolls is gently amusing, as is Kimberley O’Brien flipping her real-life husband Daniel by the mouth, or acquiescing to Nathan Boyle’s sculpture of her body. The performers are never afraid to look at us, connecting their extreme movement with our seated reality.
The atmosphere intensifies as they move into the ‘big tricks’. A splits arch across 2-high towers; a banquine somersault onto another’s shoulders; Todd Kilby holds another man horizontal above him, supported with just one hand; Boyle goes further and holds five of his cast-mates upon his shoulders; aerial flashes rise and fall from Bridie Hooper and the two O’Briens, while rigging is subtly managed by other members of the ensemble.
Finally we are faced with the melancholy of having to put back on the everyday after this vision of human harmony. Waves roll forward and backward across the stage. A beautiful hour ends.