The dark auditorium at NYU's Skirball Center for the Performing Arts is quiet, but you can feel the excitement in the air. Jessica Connell is perched on a trapeze in a single spotlight as a piece of classical music plays. As I watched her dance on and with the trapeze, I couldn't help but think of how different Circa's circus experience is from my adventure with Cirque du Soleil last week. Wunderkammer, Australian company Circa's current offering, is a delicious mix of circus, dance and burlesque.
This is a more adult circus to be sure - there are pasties involved, as well as some scantily clad performers - but I want to be clear that this isn't a raunchy show. It is also adult in that it has a totally different structure than the short multiple acts and flash, bang, bling that accompany Cirque (not that any of these things are bad). Here we have a core group of incredibly talented men and women who go through a number of beautifully choreographed routines that give you enough time to get to know each of them in greater detail.
And each one of these athletes/performers/amazing humans is truly talented. Nathan Boyle, Jessica Connell, Daniel "Crispy" Crisp, Robbie Curtis, Casey Douglas, Brittannie Portelli and Kimberley Rossi all perform acts of strength, balance, agility and grace that have the audience's rapt attention. These individuals are the pure focus of the production, which has a minimal set, a different song for each act, several lights, some fog, one trapeze, one set of Chinese straps and actors in simple costumes.
The intimacy created by using a group of performers without any kind of overpowering set creates a totally difference kind of viewing experience. The spectacle is all in the amazing abilities of the performers. I say abilities and not spectacle because, though these are obviously spectacular bodies in terms of their capabilities, the artful ways in which the numbers of constructed tend to have a gentler arc. In other words, even when parts of the show are one trick after another, there is a graceful flow and balance to the piece as a whole.
This fits in perfectly with the Brisbane, Australia based company's description of themselves as "A place where acrobatics and movement meld into a seamless whole. A celebration of the expressive possibilities of the human body at its extremes." I rarely agree so wholeheartedly with a company's self-stated description, but, Circa is absolutely accurate. That is a testament to Artistic Director Yaron Lifschitz and the rest of the Circa cast and crew.
Another aspect of Circa's Wunderkammer that stood out to me was the way it highlighted the incredible versatility of both male and female performers. This is the first show I have ever seen where women lifted men. Throughout the piece, the female body was repeatedly shown to be as strong as its male counterparts. In one part of the show Kimberley Rossi and Jessica Connell went through a routine that showed how strong unusual parts of their bodies are, such as their necks. I was amazed at the fact that I had never seen women be allowed to showcase that kind of strength before. The men were relieved of their repeated place as the base of acrobatic routines as well, as male-male pairs challenged those conceits as well. Also, Nathan Boyle performs a wonderfully beautiful and hilarious dance piece near the middle that makes you want to say "let's hear it for the boys".
As you might have guessed, I simply loved this show. Circuses are definitely in right now, but it is always possible to see a bad example of this difficult form. Luckily, here in New York we have fantastic groups like Australia's Circa coming to visit with some fantastic examples of how to do this right. Unfortunately, the show is over on Sunday, but next time you see the name Circa, make sure to catch more of the wunkerkinder of Wunderkammer.