Circa experience

Aura (Circa)


March 6 – 25

Brisbane’s own Circa Contemporary Circus is renowned for its multifaceted and diverse productions. Accordingly, the set-up for “Aura” is unique for a theatre experience; the show is presented along a runway stage area that straddles the space between two single lines of seated audience members, with headphones on in anticipation of the immersive work.


Appropriate for its presentation as part of Flowstate, a place where creative collisions are made and seen in a revitalised location in the heart of South Bank, the show serves as a love letter to Brisbane. Some thematic aspects stand clearer than others; in allusion to the river running parallel to the site, the show starts with a silver waterway down the centre of the stage, over which performers teeter in lean and use their bodies to bridge across its expanse before human frames are teemed together on a public transport trolley. In other moments the premise is subtler, but none-the-less entertaining in its curiosity, such as when a beep test with attitude routine transforms into more. And when, for example, a performer balances atop the handle of moving dolly, it is just wonderful to watch the reactions of the children in the audience across the stage, silent in awe and with mouths agape.


Limited space above the stage means that there are not too many high tower tricks, but still trademark rope work and shows of strength and steadiness, particularly in crescendo to conclusion in a routine reminiscent of the company’s epic “Il Ritorno” which premiered at Brisbane Powerhouse as part of 2015’s Brisbane Festival. And throughout the entire show, there is a seamless, sophisticated curation of numbers together to serve as ‘salute to the enchanted moment when the sun descends on the city’.


The meditative focus engendered by the Flowstate concept itself permeates the entire production, making it memorable for the manner with which a movement piece can project such a sense of stillness. And this is aptly supported by a tranquil soundscape in move towards its final ‘Heart of Glass’ finale, in contrast to the earlier symphony of city sounds that come courtesy of sound designer Daryl Wallis (working in collaboration with director Darcy Grant), shared in the stereo-headphones of individual audience members.


With so much to offer, the show is suitable for all ages. Especially when ensemble members are moving independently rather than en masse, it is difficult to determine at exactly which precision performance, one should look. Not only does this spoil the audience for choice of entertainment, but it means that every viewer has their own unique experience, which is at the core of Flowstate’s organic fare. And “Aura” offers not only the attraction of witnessing first-hand the talents of one of our best home grown exports, but the chance to be caught up in its moments of mindfulness, made even more special when bubbled against the Southbank surrounds and the light-show of the multidisciplinary Jem installation art alongside the new open air pavilion and creative space.

Considerations of quality


A couple of months away travelling and a couple more laid up with pneumonia and I saw fewer shows in 2017 than in recent years (but still well into the double digits). Reflecting, it is clear that quality over quantity can be incredibly rewarding. And what quality there was on offer… so much so that my usual top five favourite, has been blown out to the following ten:

  1. Torch Songs (Mama Alto, Brisbane Powerhouse, Wonderland Festival)
  2. Lady Beatle (The Little Red Company, La Boite Theatre Company)
  3. My Name is Jimi (Queensland Theatre)
  4. Once in Royal David’s City (Queensland Theatre)
  5. The Play that Goes Wrong (Lunchbox Theatrical Productions, QPAC)
  6. Chef (Persona Inc & Atobiz Ltd, Brisbane Powerhouse, Brisbane Festival)
  7. Nigel Kennedy: Vivaldi The New Four Seasons + Dedications (Nigel Kennedy, QPAC)
  8. Kinky Boots (Michael Cassel in association with Cameron Mackintosh, QPAC)
  9. Spectate (Counterpilot, Metro Arts)
  10. Humans (Circa, QPAC)

And honourable mention to the UK’s National Theatre Stage to Screen show Yerma… Gut-wrenching, phenomenal theatre thanks to Billie Piper’s devastatingly powerful performance.

And mention also to the following highlights:

  • Best performance:
    • Elaine Crombie as a hilarious house-slave in Queensland Theatre Company’s An Octoroon.
    • Merlynn Tong in her intimate and vulnerable one-woman work, Playlab’s Blue Bones
    • Cameron Hurry as badly behaved brother Valene in the darkly irreverent The Lonesome West by Troop Productions
  • Best AV – Spectate (Counterpilot, Metro Arts)
  • Most thought provoking –- Octoroon (Queensland Theatre, Brisbane Festival)
  • Best new work – Merlyn Tong’s Blue Bones (Playlab, Brisbane Powerhouse)
  • Best Reimagining – Signifying Nothing (Macbeth) (Hammond Fleet Productions, Brisbane Festival)
  • Best musical – Kinky Boots (Michael Cassel in association with Cameron Mackintosh, QPAC)
  • Best cabaret:
    • Torch Songs (Mama Alto, Brisbane Powerhouse, Wonderland Festival)
    • Lady Beatle (The Little Red Company, La Boite Theatre Company)
    • Song Lines (Michael Tuahine, Brisbane Powerhouse, Brisbane Cabaret Festival)
    • Alan Cumming Sings Sappy Songs (Alan Cumming, Brisbane Powerhouse, Brisbane Cabaret Festival)
  • Best music – Nigel Kennedy: Vivaldi The New Four Seasons + Dedications (QPAC)
  • Best opera – Mark Vincent Sings Mario Lanza and the Classics (Lunchbox Productions, QPAC)
  • Funniest – The Play That Goes Wrong (Lunchbox Theatrical Productions, QPAC)
  • Most fun – Let Them Eat Cake (Act/React, Anywhere Festival)
  • Most madcap – Chef (Persona Inc & Atobiz Ltd, Brisbane Powerhouse, Brisbane Festival)
  • Most immersive – Trainspotting Live (In Your Face Theatre, Brisbane Powerhouse)
  • Most moving – Once in Royal David’s City (Queensland Theatre)

2018 looks set to continue to showcase both the wonderful work of this state’s creatives and innovative works from both here and further afield. Festivals will continue to punctuate the cultural calendar, serving to oscillate audiences between feast and famine like a cultural bulimic… although with Brisbane Powerhouse’s Melt Festival moving to May (maybe at the same time as Anywhere Festival) it may be a shower than usual start to the year.

Courageous capabilities

Humans (Circa)

QPAC, The Playhouse

December 6 – 9

Given the way they are heralded around the world as an exciting and innovative physical theatre company, Circa is surely one of Queensland’s great cultural exports. And it is always wonderful to have them perform to a home-town crowd, as they will now be doing as part of a multi-year partnership with QPAC, beginning with share of their show “Humans”, an ensemble journey of celebration of what it means to be human.


The work sees 10 acrobats exploring the human form in expression of the essence of the human body’s extraordinary possibilities. As such, it is one of the company’s stripped-back and more organic pieces, which even in the Playhouse Theatre still feels like a more intimate experience than some of the company’s previous works. Mostly the show is floor work but there are still some beautiful aerial displays of trapeze, rope routines and straps segments. This is a wise decision as the limited use of apparatus allows concentration on the performers and the amazing things they can do with their bodies


It begins with a woman twisting out of her clothes, before the entire ensemble join her, spread out around the stage, each in their own space. It’s an engaging introduction that has audience members spoiled for choice in where to look as performers transition from individual movements to working collaboratively in tumble atop and under each other, layering the scene with highly-skilled gymnastic movements. Clearly, this is a work of substance more than showmanship and it is all the better because of it. Even the muted costume tones contribute, adding to the aesthetic without detracting from appreciation of the skills on show. And as its soundtrack transitions from evocative violin to feisty fiddle numbers, this only escalates as bodies are thrown around in tumble, twirl, slide and smash into the floor, in an energetic display to contrast the blank performer faces.

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The high energy scenes are dynamic, but there is vulnerability too and many instances where gasps and applause are equally audible from the audience, in response to the innovative choreography as much as the feats of balance and strength themselves. We see a human jump rope, a performer walking and then rolling across a row of the others’ heads and a three-performer-high human pyramid on which a woman balances one-handed. And when the pyramid is inverted, it sees one man, supporting the weight of five people…. astounding stuff. There is laid-bare and beautifully poetic vulnerability too when a man moves around a female performer as if she’s a limp doll needing to be bent into position.


The inventiveness extends also to the soundtrack, which features an eclectic mix of world sounds such as jaunty gypsy stylings, upbeat electronica, sultry jazz and a folksy Joanna Newsom’s ‘Does Not Suffice’ to finish things off. And ‘The Impossible Dream (The Quest)’ is the perfect accompaniment for a revelry routine in which performers all try, through different contortionism, to lick their elbows. Not only are moves cued to music but the use of tempo works well to draw focus. And so, when speech is used, just once, it seems holistically out of place.


What matters here is just the human body on display and it is a spectacle easily appreciated, particularly as performers freeze in place in the show’s later moments. There are no characters or discernible narrative here, which makes it easy to become lost in the experience of each routine. The show runs for only 70 minutes but it sometimes feels much longer (#inagoodway), given how much is packed into its experience.


“Humans” is an astonishing show that reconfirms Circa’s acclamation as one of the world’s top contemporary circus troupes. Indeed, its experience will have you at once amazed and honoured in acknowledgement of its home-grown success. The playful and powerful physical strength, grace and flexibility of its top-of-their-game performers is as mesmeric as it is breathtaking. In Circa’s hands we can truly see the incredible physical feats of which humans are courageously capable.

First-class circus collaboration

Landscape with Monsters (Circa)

Brisbane Powerhouse, Powerhouse Theatre

February 22 – 25

As is to be expected from the renowned contemporary circus company, Circa’s “Landscape with Monsters” is an intense physical circus show of many things. An eerie pre-show soundscape suggests that an enigmatic experience awaits audiences behind the Powerhouse Theatre’s black curtain. As the show opens to added classical sounds of nature, there is suggestion of an alarming afterglow of the post-apocalyptic sort as performers balance atop a large box and also each other, often hanging by but the barest of limbs.


The original circus-theatre creation is obviously unlike the company’s previous works. There is no circus apparatus as such, as, instead, the show is mostly performed with simple wooden boxes that are repositioned, climbed upon and jumped from. With the addition of tall metal structures of trestle ladders and planks, there is a deliberate industrial feel as the company examines how the curves of the human body meet with the right angles of the built environment.


Having begun as a collaboration with Illawarra’s Merrigong Theatre Company, the show is inspired by the changing, now post-industrial landscape of the small coastal New South Wales city and the resulting ‘monsters’ that have been left behind. The theme is enhanced by the inclusion of some projections, but ultimately these are secondary to its show of individual and collaborative circus skill.


Darryl Wallis’ sound design also plays a significant role in the show’s success. Eclectic, but always on point, it includes a mix of classic and contemporary in its use of popular songs and electronic music. With reprised iterations of ‘Quizás, Quizás, Quizás’ (otherwise known as ‘Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps’), ‘My Bloody Valentine’ and even a bit of Bowie, it assists in conveyance of a range of emotions in complement to the show’s distinct sections.


While there is no obvious narrative thread, there is a clear range of emotions on display with sections sometimes including the humour of wayward boxes chased down and attempts to squish limbs into them, mannequin-like, and an intimacy to the interactivity within the sometimes small boxed spaces. And there is the joyously upbeat pep of seeing the seven performers trying to bust a move within their box confines, to the tune of a jazzy musical accompaniment.


Although varied, the initial scenes with boxes are lengthy and a little repetitive. In later sections, however, things become more mixed as performers intertwine lithely amongst ladder rungs before balancing atop it (and each other), see-saw in balance on planks, obstacle course across boxes in ballet balance on pointe shoes and sometimes slither in the smallest of spaces. The result is an audience often silenced in awe at the bold moments of often genuine danger.


When it comes to contemporary circus, Circa is a first-class industry leader that continues to convey a courageous take on the genre. As a company, it never disappoints. “Landscape with Monsters” may be different from Circa’s earlier shows, with its lack of aerial work, however, the strength and skill on display are still quite astounding. The visual aesthetic is a memorable one too, achieved through the efforts of the show’s skilled practitioners in realisation of the impressive choreography, such as, for example, in the striking image which sees all their bodies coming together in formation of a human bridge in fitting final fulfilment of its collaborative core.


Captivating circused classics

When One Door Closes (La Boite & Circa)

La Boite Theatre, Roundhouse Theatre

April 9 – 23

As a door slams, a blur of pink races across the Roundhouse Theatre space. With her fairyfloss pink hair and the stage’s checkerboard surrounds, it conveys a surreal through-the-looking-glass-type atmosphere. She is not Alice, however, but Nora of Henrick Ibsen’s “A Doll’s House” later to be joined by his Hedda Gabler and August Strindberg’s Miss Julie, each in their own definitive colour pallet of dress and wig.

So what happens when the women land in the same room? This combination of three turn-of-the-century classics is the premise behind this new work from internationally acclaimed contemporary circus ensemble Circa, working in collaboration with La Boite Theatre. The result is a visceral one of extreme and exciting acrobatic theatre. Each performer has an amazing presence, working rigorously in display of feat after feat of physical prowess and skill to present a show of the highest standard. The specificity of movement is astounding, resulting in many tense moments in response to the thrill of seeing its risky physical accomplishments and justifiable gasps of awe from audience members.


Particularly impressive is Miss Julie’s introductory number, set to a throbbing soundtrack of door slams and thumps. Indeed, Oonagh Sherrard’s complex, dynamic soundscape not only assists in the storytelling, but adds much to the experience, taking audiences through a carnivalesque and confettied ‘What the World Needs Now’ to a boyant ‘I Want Candy’ and an all-male showcase from Nathan Boyle, Martin Evans, Todd Kilby and Duncan West, set to ‘You Don’t Own Me’.


Thanks to its layered performances, there are many poignant moments too, often when performers combine to create memorable but familiar images, such as when Nicole Faubert, Bridie Hooper and Brittannie Portelli hang from a trapeze like in Circa’s 2015 Brisbane Festival work “Il Ritorno”.


In experience, “When One Door Closes” seems like a long show of many scenes, dragging a little as its non-narrative mash-up goes to some strange places, forcing audiences unfamiliar with all of the original texts’ stories, to invest focus on trying to understand the assumedly feminist discourse being promoted. Alternatively, these moments can just be dismissed as part of the show’s challenge and the quirk of a work from a company renowned for pushing artistic boundaries.


Certainly Circa never disappoints and their continued contribution to a legacy of exploration and diversification is to be applauded. “When One Door Closes” is a stunning work of art, captivating in its drama and celebration. Not only does it honour the spirit of three 20th century heroines by imagining them here and now, but in doing so through the circus form, brings people to these classics of which they otherwise might have no experience.  

Photos c/o – Dylan Evans


Il Ritorno magnifico

Il Ritorno (Circa)

Brisbane Powerhouse, Powerhouse Theatre

September 9 – 12


The epic “Il Ritorno”, commissioned by the Brisbane Festival, for world premiere ahead of a world tour represents a moving fusion of circus and Baroque opera, created by the Artistic Director of award-winning Brisbane circus company Circa, Yaron Lifschitz, in collaboration with composer Quincy Grant, to retell Claudio Monteverdi’s 17th century “Il Ritorno D’Ulisse in Patria” (The Return of Ulysses to his Homeland), one of the first modern operas. Combining it with folk songs and new compositions layered with themes arising from accounts of post WWII European displacement and survivors’ long journeys home from Auschwitz, makes for a unique and thoroughly engaging aesthetic event to which audiences were silenced in awed appreciation, leaning forward in their seats in absolute absorption.


As Lifschitz himself noted before its opening night performance, its existence is testament to the Brisbane Festival’s investment in works that challenge rather than confirm. And it is this truth that makes it such an enigmatic experience, for to attempt to categorise it perhaps does the work an injustice; this is a show that simply needs to be seen to have its beauty be fully appreciated.

It begins with Circa ensemble members (Nathan Boyle, Jessica Connell, Nicole Faubert, Gerramy Marsden, Brittannie Portelli and Duncan West) being dragged and thrown around a grey pallet stage of muted tones. For a while it is just the physical presence of separate bodies in the space but as they cluster together, the lighting warms and a narrator of sorts enters to share snippets of the journey of Greek hero Ulysses, guiding the audience from the shores of Ithaca to the arrival of vain suitors who are meanwhile set to win his wife Penelope’s heart.

Circa is renowned for pushing artistic boundaries and creating powerful works of circus artistry and their involvement in “Il Ritorno” is inspired. The movement of the ensemble is strong but not aggressive in unity and illustration of the longing that is central to the work. Their performances provide many memorable moments in their stripped-back acrobatics, beyond just the strength of their aerial work, which has audience members clasping hands together in anticipation of applause that although deserved, may distract. Of note is the use of silhouette during ground rope work and the visual imagery created in the interesting shapes of performers virtually thrown against backdrops from which their bodies hang in linger, sprayed against the wall. Although often tranquil, the momentum barely falters beyond a routine on stilted hand stand platform that continues on a little long. However, even this is accompanied by such beautiful musical accompaniment from musicians Tim Byrne and Catherine Stirling, that it is easily forgiven.


Indeed, “Il Ritorno” shows how opera and acrobatics go so well together, each affording the audience opportunity to become encompassed by the pure emotion generated by both serene and turbulent moments that are reflected in music as much as moment as the show’s vocalists (Alicia Cush, Bethan Ellsmore, Matthew Hirst and Mattias Lower) perform powerful Italian opera alongside heartfelt Yiddish and German folksongs. This is a magnificent artistic experience that serves as refined alternative to the exuberance of the festival’s Arcadia shows. Far from being inaccessible, however, it serves to show that classic art forms do not only have to occur from within the museum cabinet of culture.