Emerging from the darkness: glowing bodies with an other-worldly array of physical talents. Entrancing and enigmatic, Luminous is a Sydney-based circus troupe performing an original work that amalgamates ultraviolet light, body paint, and circus acts in a collision of colour and contortion.
Luminous is currently showing at the Fringe hub at Gasworks Art Park in Melbourne. Renowned Australian body-paint artist Jessica Watson Miller paints the bodies of four performers (a contortionist, a juggler and two aerial acrobats) each evening in a creative process requiring hours of preparation before the show, and no two shows’ paint-work are exactly the same. The characters are conjured up from the depths of the black light stage, stroke by stroke, almost coagulating into a trance-like ecosystem before the audience’s eyes.
The Luminous ensemble are certainly talented, but what stands out more is their great team-work. The individual performers come together like the limbs of a body to form one single organism. In a show like this, each performer is required to trust that the other members will, literally, catch you when you fall. But with the heightened importance on cooperation in such a creative piece, there is also an energetic exchange of sorts that occurs alongside the physical acts. Confidence and support – one’s commitment to the performance – can be so easily felt by and transferred to the others on the stage, and unfortunately there were a few moments in which the air of confidence in the collective cast was betrayed and spread throughout the group. Unfortunately, when an audience witnesses a trick – especially a somewhat dangerous or physically demanding one – if the performer reveals even the slightest amount of uncertainty or struggle, it can really detract from the illusion of ease and fluidity. This is, of course, only a small critique, and a completely understandable one given the intense difficulty of the stunts in the show. But there were just a few too many slip-ups, a few too many moments of ostensible strain from one or more of the performers, and hence a few too many moments audience members were left to feel slightly nervous and/or uncomfortable. But the moments of awkwardness were swiftly followed by a stunningly executed pose or act, and the outcome of each trick is inevitably highly variable for each performance – it would be a freak act if they could nail every trick every time.
Unfortunately, I think we often want to witness the seemingly impossible nature of a freak act – to suspend our beliefs, even if just for an instant, about the limitations of the human body and mind. In circus or magic shows especially, we often want to be proven wrong. We want to be shocked. And Luminous certainly had moments of this – with numerous tricks or entire performative scenes being met by a responsive audience, with calls such as “f*** yeah”, “wow”, “ooooh”, or the palpable silence when everyone in the room is holding their breath in awe. The production was immersive, transportive, and definitely suspended our beliefs at times, and held us captive in its supernatural grip. Visceral visual effects with the UV light, a trippy techno soundscape, and the out-of-the-ordinary talent of the troupe (in particular, contortionist Greta Mayr) combine to evoke the weirdness of an underwater dream. Slip-ups aside, the cast were professional and highly talented – both as individuals and as an ensemble, and they deserve immense praise for the physically, let alone mentally, enduring nature of such a show.
Fringe creator Simon Abrahams says that the goal of the festival is to assist the audience to see and experience their city and its inhabitants in a different light – to discover something new and shift their perspective. “Melbourne Fringe is not here to present you with the obvious or the tried or the tested. It’s about independent artists taking risks, safe in the the knowledge they have audiences who are equally audacious and share their sense of artistic adventure,” he says. Luminous is an evolving work of art – each night’s “costumes” completely unique and transient. “You can’t put your artwork away and come back tomorrow with body painting, because your canvas will go and take a shower,” Watson Miller points out. And thus in the continual cycle of construction and evaporation of both set and body-art, Luminous speaks to the temporary nature not only of this sort of show, but of performing in general. Each night, each difficult trick attempted is an entirely new moment; a moment in which any past success no longer exists or matters. At the end of the production, all members are on stage and water dramatically washes away the paint on their bodies and again they are a tabula rasa – a blank slate – for the show to come. The fluctuating nature of such performance art – in which every performance, every trick, is a complete new beginning and an entirely new risk – is met with fierce commitment by the cast of LUMINOUS. Their commitment to push boundaries and to constantly evolve is what Fringe is all about.