Saving circus Grace

Grace (Emma Serjeant)

Judith Wright Centre, Performance Space

27 – 30 July

Modern audiences’ appetite for circus is almost insatiable and in this circus city, there has been no shortage of quality contemporary circus shows thanks to the excellence of companies such as Circa, Casus and Company 2. Despite this almost cluttered climate, however, Emma Serjeant’s “Grace”, shines in its originality as much as its execution, showing that contemporary circus clearly still has much to offer.

The solo show presents the story of Grace (Serjeant), an apparently successful and happy photographer. Although not entirely likeable, she is authentic in her disbelief of the impact of one incident as part of an ordinary day while she is just out walking, simply heading to buy some socks. It’s a motif continued as Serjeant makes her way from stage to question and take polaroid photos with and of audience members before encasing the space in caution tape in chaotic culmination in contrast to the work’s earlier, calmer contemplations.

The show begins with Serjeant, aloft in aerial hoop, looking down upon a stage cluttered with a variety of props to be used to play out the fragmented memories of her life, recalled in reflective pieces. Although her initial first person narrative is appropriate to this introspection, the device does not always work to full effect as when it punctuates floor work, words become accompanied by distraction of the sounds of movement and exertion. By contrast, however, when third and first person narration merges in fragmented recall of the event at the centre of her experience, with snippets tumbling over each other, it is a powerful experience.

At the extreme of easy definition, “Grace” presents a mix of circus, theatre, dance, video and original music, with elements combining to tell the story of what happens in five seconds of the protagonist’s life. And this variety is one of the show’s most appealing aspects, ensuring that its hour running length never drags, even through some strange balloon tricks of the sort definitely not to be tried at home.

balloon

“Grace” is a physical show that sees Sergent contorting into a wooden box and through a metal ring (while atop hand balancing canes) and balancing atop a waist high tower of bottles and wooden planks. In each undertaking, she twists her body into interesting and unusual shapes, creating lovely lines and showcasing superb strength and grace, adding to the power of the piece. The most memorable and beautiful moments, however, come from the charismatic performer’s skillful aerial work.

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While at times, its soundscape is in danger of dominating, during sections of heavy breathing and alike, it ultimately crescendos into an appropriately moving conclusion. Lighting too, particularly enhances latter sections, creating enshrining evocative shadows of on-stage action.

As the representation of the journey of a woman on the edge, “Grace” offers an engaging and interesting narrative take from a multi-talented and versatile contemporary circus practitioner (Serjeant co-founded Casus and has served as ensemble member of Circa). In her hands, there is no danger of contemporary circus finding itself too comfortable and Brisbane audiences should feel privileged to experience the show’s World Premiere season ahead of its transfer to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival next month.

Photos c/o – https://www.facebook.com/JudithWrightCentre

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