Whether it was on a school field trip, a summer camp activity, or a cheesy workplace team-building exercise, most of us have experienced what’s typically called a “trust fall.”
If you haven’t, find a few people you truly trust and have them stand behind you, braced and with arms ready. Cross your arms across your chest, close your eyes, and fall straight backwards into their waiting arms.
That experience is at the core of Casus Circus’ hour-long show. Moment after moment, one of the four acrobats is falling — often from 10 or more feet off the ground — and trusting that a fellow performer will synchronize catching them with their own movements, in perfect time.
Fortunately, they never failed (there were a couple of balance slips on opening day, but never when the stakes were high). From the opening floor routine to the aerial work on ribbons, hoops, and trapeze, the Australian quartet wowed the in-the-round audience with feats of agility and strength that grew increasingly difficult as the show progressed.
Knee Deep opens with the sole female company member walking delicately over a carton of eggs. Near the end of the show, the egg cartons make another appearance atop a table already balanced on four glass bottles. Twenty-four eggs soon serve as the foundation for the weight of two men balanced atop them.
Although Knee Deep doesn’t convey any semblance of a plot, there are recurring motifs. Trust is paramount throughout, and underscored by the theme of strength in numbers. Just as one egg could never support a man’s weight — but 12 can — the highlights of Casus’ performance come when the ensemble collaborates, standing three men tall on each others’ shoulders or dangling from each other’s feet while balanced on the trapeze. They use their partners’ bodies as tools to accomplish feats more significant than any could achieve on their own. After one performer supporting the other three in midair finally lets go, one can feel, as an audience member, how light his own body must feel after releasing his extra burden. Likewise, one scene finds one performer standing atop another’s face, underscoring the fragility and trust recurring themes.
In the end, however, the performance is less about hidden meaning than the pure spectacle of a genuine circus. Scenes rotate between serious high-flying acrobatics and humorous sketches on the ground, from silly contemplation of a single egg to one performer folding an origami swan while on the shoulders of his partner.
Overall, it’s a show that’s best enjoyed by sitting back and experiencing the moment, rather than searching for deeper meaning. The lighting and ambiance in Memminger Auditorium are superb, and while the spotlights amid the darkness initially lent a hushed, serious air to the room, within about 10 minutes the audience began offering applause after each impressive maneuver, often in quick succession. The clapping helped to define what we were witnessing more as performance art than storytelling.
Knee Deep won’t change your life or leave you pondering a new aspect of your existence, but it may inspire you to do a few more pushups each morning. Even if it doesn’t, it’s a thrilling show that’s worth experiencing.
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