Sleep. Snore. Surge. Stretch. Strength. Stability. Song. Soprano. Sinuous. Shadows. Symphony. Spiral. Space. Share. Suspend. Support. Slip. Seamless. Syncopated. Struggle. Sway. Sizzle. Sound. Strain. Skip. Stacked. Swoop. Swing. Scary. Squish. Solitary. Swivel. Spin. Shimmer. Stamina. Supple. Storm. Survival. Serene. Silhouette. Spotlight. Sinew. Spine. Sweat. Sound. Smile. Strange. Schoolyard. Splash. Spill. Smooth. Straight. Strong.

Circa’s ‘S’ is “inspired by the shape, grammatical functions and sound of the 19th letter of the alphabet”.  Inspiration is a very appropriate term in this case, as there is no clear story or theme to the work, beyond a spectacular display of strength and acrobatic skill. Throughout the performance, however, I could not help but look for the correlations with the letter ‘s’ in its many forms.

The set was simple… a large white diamond shaped mat formed the stage, surrounded on three sides by traditional black theatre drops. The white mat seemed almost to glow under certain lighting conditions, giving the illusion of an elevated stage, suspended in empty space. Minimalistic lighting, designed by Jason Organ, was used to great effect to enhance this sensation and create different moods for each act – an eerie blue glow, a warm, joyful space, backlit silhouettes and dramatic shadows. The lighting highlighted the forms – the muscular bodies, the complicated shapes they combined to produce, the feats of strength they performed.  The costumes also ensured the focus was on the physicality of the performers. Plain black trousers for the males and black sheer leotards for the females. There was no glitz and glamour in this show – the wow factor came entirely from the acrobatics and the interactions of the performers.

I have often noted, in acrobatic performances, the careful, deliberate placement of each hand and foot as the performers prepare to climb upon each other, be thrown, and swung. Sometimes, in the midst of the bustle of performance, it can seem jarring, out of place. In ‘S’ this necessary caution is played upon to set the style for the show. Such movements are deliberate and clear, with no attempt to hide them. Instead, they become the basis for all the interactions between the performers. Almost every movement is instigated by another – guiding a hand or foot into place, turning the head, lifting each other into place, constantly in contact, even when clearly not necessary for safety. This creates a rhythm which is maintained throughout the first part half of the show, and fosters a heightened feeling of collaboration and connectedness between the performers, beyond that created by the necessity of acrobatic performance.

The performers, Nathan Boyle, Jessica Connell, Casey Douglas, Daniel O’Brien, Brittanie Portelli, Kimberley Rossi and Duncan West displayed amazing skills, strength and stamina, maintaining a punishing momentum for the 90 min show. There were dramatic acts that drew gasps of amazement form the audience, moments that were more like contemporary dance performances, complicated group routines and fascinating solos, all accompanied by an eclectic soundtrack that ranged from sounds of human breath, to classical orchestral, tribal, and celtic music, electronic equipment and silence.

The momentum and energy built throughout the first part of the show, which included impressive acts of strength, balance and agility in groups, pairs and individually, on the floor and elevated using suspended fabric and straps, and came to a height with an impressive solo performance with hoops.

It is at this point that my only criticism of the show occurred. The final two sections of the show took a very different direction. At this point, one of the performers was mic’d and the nature of sounds related to the performance – impact of bodies colliding, noises of exertion and strain…. even his heartbeat were explored. And this was a unique and creative direction to follow. But at that point in the show, it interrupted the momentum that had been produced and changed the whole dynamic of the show. The 4th wall was broken, and a more humorous element emerged, which created a not entirely unwelcome break from the previous intensity. But the feats of strength that were occurring were almost easy to overlook with the distraction caused by the nature of the sounds and the interactions between the performers (as a female performer appeared to take great glee in causing the mic’d performer discomfort, to the amusement of the audience) and the previous energy was absent. If this break had occurred earlier in the show, the dynamic could have built up once again to an exciting finale.  But the final act was also quite low key in comparison to the earlier routines, and contained the only really obvious slip of the evening. This resulted in an anti-climactic feeling at the end of the show which I feel may not have occurred, if the order of the acts was different. This is not to say that the audience were not affected at the end of the evening. They clearly enjoyed the show immensely, and were extremely vocal in their appreciation.  Each routine displayed amazing technical prowess, and was extremely impressive.  I personally thought, however, that I would have enjoyed the performance that little bit more, and left on a high, if the high energy was maintained to the end and the audience was left as it had been earlier, on the edge of their seat and wanting more. It is for that reason only that I give this show 4, rather than 5 stars.

Regardless of the order, each performance of the night demonstrated the extreme skill and strength of the performers and the creativity and vision of the Director Yaron Lifschitz. I would highly recommend seeing ‘S’, and having the opportunity to see how Circa have developed a show that raises the circus arts to the level of contemporary fine art.