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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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