‘Brave Space’, by Aloft Circus Arts

Review from: Underbelly Circus Hub, Edinburgh Fringe; 19th August 2022

From Aloft Circus Arts in Chicago comes their newest show Brave Space, an exploration of community and connectedness in circus form. This beautiful and thoughtful piece is overflowing with talent and skills, but never feels cluttered. It is minimal in its set and costumes, with only six small floor lights and calm background music as we are welcomed into the space, empty save a large parachute type fabric in the centre of the floor.

The audience gathers around, sitting on the floor, being guided into place by the cast. As we are told we are an important part of the show itself: we will be joining the cast, and making the show possible. There is nervous laughter, some nods. Many people may be expecting the classic audience participation gimmicks from circus shows – someone is dragged onto stage and it’s a humorous affair. But we soon learn this isn’t that kind of show, not in the slightest. Seven women, dressed in white, rise and appear from the fabric on the floor, raising one higher, letting her walk and balance atop others, partially hidden by the flowing fabric as people move in and out. Poles are discreetly assembled beneath her so she appears to walk, rising out of a sea of tumbling fabric, until she stands high above us, on a metal pole being held by all members of the cast. A silent walk across, then safely lowered and embraced by the group. The audience realise they are here for them, for each other. 

We are then all asked to take hold of the fabric, we lift and pull to the kind words of the cast, shaping and supporting what is to slowly, over the course of the show, transform into our big top. Our circus stage. Some are given poles to stand by, supporting and bracing the roof, others are passed ropes, to raise equipment high into the new ceiling of our big top.  Some are given props to hold, or provide support to the artists themselves. It’s a beautiful entwining of the audience and cast, one not being able to enjoy the show without the other. Gone are people’s fears of being pulled on stage, now people look for a way to help, to feel a part of this magical experience. 

This is some of the most breath-taking circus I have ever seen, a huge part of that is the way we are invited to view it. Sitting mere centimetres from a Cyr wheel twirling and spinning. Being amongst a juggling routine. Then lying on our backs, looking up at a duo cloud swing act from below. A whole new perspective on popular acts. We are so close to the performers you could reach out and touch them. The acts are full of the big tricks and strength expected from a heavily acro/aerial troupe, but they feel much more intense up close. The finale act, where a tangle of a hundred elastic strings are shared between the cast and they all spin and twirl together and around the audience is a stunning end. The interesting kit is in fact the inside of a corde lisse, burst open to reveal its many inside parts that go into making it such a strong, reliable piece of equipment. A single thing, revealed to be made up of hundreds all working together. A wonderful representation of the show’s themes. 

The care and attention given by all the performers is also beautiful to see. A mother with her small children are ushered forward at key parts of the show, and the children given special roles to help. Older people are brought chairs to help them enjoy the show comfortably, and the cast are present before and after the show to meet and chat with people. It’s truly a community spirit and the show is what you make it. In this case it made for a lovely show, suitable for all ages, and if like me, the other audience members will be talking about this for a long time to come. 

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