Monday, June 4, 2012

Rock the Ballet and CIRCA

When I first saw Rasta Thomas's Rock the Ballet in June 2010 I was sorely disappointed. I went in this time with low expectations. Not unsurprisingly, I enjoyed it much more. It still has all the same issues (it is the same show after all) as first time around - dodgy gender politics, choreography that wouldn't stand up in most amateur shows and an incessant reliance on the easy grabs (unrelentless video projections, an "I'm too sexy" finale) and a show that is way too egotistically focused on Thomas himself. 

Because I knew all this going in, I wasn't nearly as bothered by at all as I was two years ago. I just focused on the actual physicality of the dancing, which technically, is pretty darn fine. Thomas and his "bad boys of dance" are really, really well trained dancers. They are powerful movers - they carve space well, they hit their turns, they extend their lines. They make banal movement look like a whole lot more than the sum of its parts. Watching them does remind me why I love dance. 

And the show does have a pop soundtrack - U2, Prince, Michael Jackson. Totally prescriptive and overwhelming, but totally fun. 

So while I still can't go all the way with generous star-age (just too problematic and weak thematically,) I will admit that I had a great time watching the show. 

Click here for my review of Rock the Ballet in the Herald Sun on 01 June 2012. 

CIRCA. Performer Emma McGovern. Photo by Justin Nicholas. 

After the lack of creativity in Rock the Ballet, CIRCA was a breath of fresh air. I've watched Brisbane-based Circa ensemble over the years and their circus/theatre fusions have been a bit hit or miss. I remember one show where a single guy juggled to esoteric jazz music for an entire hour. About as stimulating as it sounds! There's been good stuff as well, though, and what's never been missing from Circa is a desire to see where circus can go. 

There's lots of practitioners of contemporary circus and Australia doesn't lag in that department. I've seen a wide range of stuff over my years reviewing. Most of what I have seen has involved taking a collection of individual acts and harnessing them together with some sort of theatrical premise, usually text-based. Most of it has felt more circus/theatre than circus/dance. 

Which is why I was so intrigued by CIRCA. Essentially it is like one long dance piece made by a choreographer not a theatre director. That's how it came across anyway. (Director Yaron Lifschitz, who made the work in collaboration with the performers, is actually trained in theatre direction.)  It moves in and out of solos, duets, group sections often on an empty stage. When there is a circus apparatus - a static trapeze, a set of blue hula hoops, Chinese straps -  the apparatus is alone on stage and the choreography on it is closer to the texture and syncopations of a dance piece than an acrobatic act. The physical material is subtle, with more dramatic tension and suspension than whizz-bang trickery. This isn't to say that the acrobatic level isn't strong - it is very, very high, but there isn't reliance on it like there is in so much other circus. 

Like many a dance piece, CIRCA needs some editing. Its 75 minutes non-stop movement would probably be more powerful in 55. Despite that, it remains quite powerful. Lots of different basic human emotions are evoked and it engages without being too esoteric or too dumbed down. There's a really cool bit towards the end where the guys do a Chinese hoops act without the actual hoops. They simulate the hoops with their arms and they do a lot of the classic jumps and maneuvers characteristic of the traditional act. Without the actual equipment there, the effect is more of a fluid acrobatic ballet than a stop-start-reset-do-a-big-jump routine. It turns a familiar circus routine into something same, same, but different. Excellent!

CIRCA runs until 10 June, so there's still time to check it out. 

Click here for my review of CIRCA in the Herald Sun on 04 June 2012. 

Rasta Thomas's Rock the Ballet
State Theatre, Arts Centre
30 May to 03 June

Merlyn Theatre, Malthouse
30 May to 10 June

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