Review from… Rondo Theatre, Bath; 28th January 2018
Emotive Circus Arts are a new young company from Bristol, presenting their first production –EvoL – which was originally conceived while director Hannah Finn was studying in California. EvoL is an hour of gymnastic dance-theatre driven by a narrative of finding self-love, set in a fantasy world where each character has a partner except the newly blossomed Lily.
It is a wordless show, and we find the character names only through the glossy programme, which also tells us who plays who. Lily, in normal life, is dancer Suzy Pegler. (No surnames are credited in the brochure, so I’ve found what I can through some forensic Facebooking). Pairings are characterised by a colour and an aspect of love: Keyona and Emily (hula hoopers Margot Ombredane and Scarlett Smith) are dressed in lavender and have a sisterly bond of friendship; Monique and Lavran (Indigo Barclay and Joe Dickinson) are passionate and sensual lovers in red; Aaris and Adrian (Kirsty Egginton and Harry Clements) are regal and dignified in royal blue with a spiritual love. Lily is white, pure.
The choreographies represent the different relationships, as Lily tries to find a place for herself and eventually discovers happiness in her own skin. It’s a very simple story, clearly spelled out through the character interactions, and led by a glowing orb that cleverly matches the symbolic heart colour of whoever holds it. The audience in the cute and cosy Rondo community theatre make lots of appreciative noises following the happy ending of jubilant smiles and ensemble routine.
I know that I may be opening myself up to the common complaint that reviewers are ‘out of touch’ with audiences if I say that I didn’t love it, but part of my job is to see a vast amount of work so that I can make assessments based on relative merits (this is my 4th circus-based show in less than 48 hours, for example). Earlier today, I was reading an interview with circus historian Dominique Jando, who makes the important observation that creation can’t occur in an artistic vacuum.
‘People in the new circus movement don’t know much about the history of circus arts, which is the most worrisome part of the story because you cannot have evolution if you don’t know your history. You have to have a solid foundation. Imagine a ballet dancer who never heard of Baryshnikov or Nureyev! In the circus– that’s the case. They do something and they think they are great, but they’ve never seen another act in the specialty they do at a high level to just have an idea of what their level really is and what can be done… you are not creative if you don’t know what happened before. You think you invent something when actually it was done before and much better. So it’s better to know what was done before and then improve on what was done.‘ (CircusTalk)
EvoL feels dated, with an aesthetic drawn from an 80s dream of Cirque Du Soleil, and – as can perhaps be expected from a young company – lacks rigorous artistic exploration that could come from a deeper exposure to professional contemporary dance, circus and theatre practices. Which is not to say that the team haven’t worked extremely hard. They have ambition, and they clearly have the means of making a production happen, which is no small feat. The whole experience raises questions for me about how young circus artists can continue developing their creative expertise outside of the formal training environment. What are the progression routes? Where are the mentors and professional apprenticeships? Only in the most exceptional of circumstances will a natural talent be enough to shine through in the field at these early stages.
I didn’t love it, but I certainly didn’t hate it either. EvoL is a pleasant, simple show that belies the naive pomposity of the programme notes. The music is well chosen and atmospheric, the play of coloured lights on the backdrop of canvas squares is rather lovely, and the acrobatics are impressive enough for those who’ve rarely seen a hand-to-hand adagio up close before. For regular dance or circus visitors, the current version is still a Fringe-level offering but, with continued ambition, scrutiny and professional support, Finn’s vision could EvoLve (sorry, couldn’t resist) into something more satisfying.