Twisted and hard core. Literally. The bodies of the three acrobat performers of Circa are not like your body, and certainly not like mine. Not even if you’ve been Crossfitting like a fiend or are as bendy as a liquid yogi. These guys and gal have a core of kryptonite.
Their spines curl and uncurl on demand; their shoulder sockets are a whirligig of mobility, not to mention strength. Their feet are suction cups, and their balance—absolutely lock tight. Muscular yet lithe, they move with a dancer’s silken sensibility, an understanding that they’re not just maneuvering through space, but their movement transforms it.
And transform it did, when Hamish McCourty, Daniel O’Brien, and Kimberley O’Brien turned the stage of the Emmett Robinson Theatre into an intimate exploration of human entanglement. “What Will Have Been” is the title of the Aussie contemporary circus company’s Spoleto offering this year, debuting last night and running for five more performances, and it’s an hour-plus of sheer astonishment.
The piece opens with an audio recording from what sounds like some past catastrophe, a reporter’s voice describing a scene of devastation and loss, reminiscent of 9-11 in my mind. The three performers then begin trying to console one another, yet they slip through elusive hugs, never able to truly hold one another. Their bodies go limp and flop around the stage with the most artful flopping conceivable, and they prop one another up and reconfigure bodies as if playing with rag dolls. It’s terrific physical comedy, and a study of how much disciplined athleticism it takes to be totally flimsy.
When Kimberley O’Brien then ascends a pair of dangling straps to begin a spellbinding aerial dance, that flimsy morphs into sublime fluidity. She wraps, twists, climbs, spins, entangles, backbends, splits, and who knows what else — talk about suspended disbelief. The men take to the trapeze in later elements of the performance, but it doesn’t quite reach the heights of Ms. O’Brien’s artistry.
The show encompasses expert tumbling and prop work, with the performers using one another’s body as human scaffolding. The choreography of such complex intertwining is masterful, and the various acts are accompanied by compelling music (the moody Lou Reed lingering on through “Pale Blue Eyes,” Philip Glass) as well as live violin interludes by Lachlan O’Donnell. The various “acts,” so to speak, flow together with ease and a light narrative thread, effectively blending humor with deeper emotional terrain.
According to Circa director Yaron Lifschiftz, the work explores “the desire for true presence,” and if the audience’s rapt attention is any indication, it succeeds. The intense physicality (standing on top of heads and every other body part, dangling by a collared neck) is occasionally cringe-worthy and would alarm any chiropractor or orthopedist in the crowd, but the stunts delight and the ligament-less, tireless performers seem unscathed.
I overheard several serious Spoleto goers say it’s the best show they’ve seen this season, and I would agree. Great for all ages too. Get tickets if you can, and start limbering up.