AfterDark Theatre, a long-term ‘physical theatre’ company creating themed acts to bring the circus back to the mainstream, have turned their creativity up to 11 with their current show ‘Society’, playing at the Melba Spiegeltent in Collingwood.

In an attempt to bring circuses – often seen as family-friendly and aimed exclusively at children – back into the limelight and appeal to those over the age of 18, ‘Society’ is set in the seedy underbelly of classic New Orleans, complete with voodoo priestesses and a little nudity to boot. New Orleans, at least in the old tales of street parties and secret societies, is a gorgeous setting for this sinful show, and the Spiegeltent is appropriately decked out in masquerade masks and plastic beads to set the scene.

The cast introduce themselves joyfully to some of the audience prior to the show’s start, and director / MC / quick-change magician extraordinaire Francesco Minniti is resplendent in a long purple coat and faux fur wrap, all of which are lost somewhere in his quick-change hideaway before the end of the show, but… that might be getting ahead of things.

‘Society’ is carefully crafted to ensure performers have enough time between their acts to relax and recover from some of the stunning displays of strength and skill occurring onstage, which is something of a relief when the intimate setting of the Spiegeltent allows audience members to see every tensed muscle and bead of sweat upon a performer’s brow.

Each performer has their own speciality and they are clearly extremely well-trained, although it is still a delight to see the pride radiating off their co-stars when they execute a trick or performance with perfect poise. Even when there are points of failure – Mathew Brown’s slightly less-than-graceful flip down from a Handstands strength display – everyone is always willing to pick themselves back up and try again, and Brown completed the act to riotous applause.

The variety in acts is a delight to see. Tully Fedorowjtsch is the equivalent of a harlequin, flipping bottles and spinning water bowls while grinning maniacally, until his final performance, a man-sized spinning cube balanced on its point against his forehead.

Conversely, there are more ‘serious’, carnal performances: from Kara Ciezki as Miss Mardi Gras, the sultry bar singer accompanying multiple acts, to Simon Storey and Mimi LeNoire (the Silver Fox and Miss Orleans), dancers and adagio (pair acrobatics) performers spinning across the stage. LeNoire also performs a hoop set high above the stage, a gorgeous and sensual display of strength and grace.

Alyssa Moore often accompanies Brown during acrobatics performances, including an act from hanging straps dangling from the ceiling of the Spiegeltent, and the aforementioned Handstands act, where she counterbalances the six-foot tall pipes that Brown balances his entire weight upon with a single hand. A silly striptease prior to the Handstands act ensures that Brown is shirtless, which serves to display the muscles that allow him to lift himself so effortlessly. A delight for the crowd, but also a look into the work that these performers must do in their off-time to ensure they remain strong and capable onstage.

Finally, there is the voodoo priestess Marie Laveau herself, returned to life in the contortionist body of Jacinta Rohan. While the other performers can learn their skills, flips and strength and perfect balance, the limits to which Rohan can bend her body are truly out of this world, and enhanced by the smoky stage and sultry atmosphere Minniti describes before her act. Contortion is always impressive, but the wide-eyed look on her face, as though she is a corpse returned to life, while she plants her feet alongside her head from over her shoulders… that is truly stunning.

Alongside the performers, the costume design by Nay Cananzi must be congratulated, with each performer and character coming to life due to their flamboyant outfits. The lighting – by Harrison Cope – and music – by Miss Mardi Gras herself, Kara Ciezki – are also without fault, and bring the New Orleans atmosphere down into little old Collingwood.

If every circus act could be like ‘Society’, there could be a real circus renaissance, which would help to draw audiences back to the ever-impressive physical arts.