Arts Festival

Your body, my stepladder

LOOK Ma, no feet! Dancers in Urban Circus at the Hilton Arts Festival this weekend. Photograph by Joanna Pawelczyk.

YOU MIGHT NEVER have thought of the sinew at the back of your knee as something to hang your whole body weight on. You might also never have contemplated the awkwardness of being in an elevator as a dance-making opportunity. The whirligig that is the human body is pushed to its limits in Daniel Buckland’s Urban Circus. An essay on the harshness and fluidity of city life, it takes everything into its gaze, from the hurly burl of traffic to the possibility of spotting love in the crowd.  It’s a trapeze display with a difference, but one that will hold you transfixed by its sheer polish and death-defying acts that seem so simple you could do them at home. But don’t even try. Rather watch this production which features this weekend at 12:15pm in the Theatre, at the Hilton Arts Festival.

It is here where an ensemble of eight highly skilled performers take on gravity and win, equipped as they are with devices of the nature of hoops and poles, stackable chairs and their own musculature. Divided into several acts and often using the women performers’ hair as a visual device, not to mention the shadows cast by the airborne performers, this is a work which teeters between sheer skill for the sake of sheer skill and story telling told with the body instead of the voice.

And there, sometimes, lies the rub. Sometimes in this work, which is just over one hour, there is so much ‘wow’ that the mouth can get frozen in the ‘o’ posture and land up yawning. This has to do with the narrative threads of each ‘story’ sometimes teetering into the more abstract and the dancers going to town with their own physical momentum.

Not always to the work’s credit, is its lighting. At dramatic moments in the repertoire, lights flash and fight for your attention. There’s a peppering of strobes and much doof-doof sound, which detracts from the bodily gymnopedies at play. It’s a rather conventional approach to a show of this nature, which doesn’t really allow the beautiful choreography to hold you by the heart with its own steam but indicates with LED-bright lights and very loud music, that this is something jivey.

Overriding any downside, however, is the dancers’ stage presence. They have a friendliness about them that gives the work heart, but also makes the most catastrophic middle fingers cast to the rule of Isaac Newton look simple. There was a moment, in the preview of the work in which a shoe was lost by a performer. Without batting an eye, she regained it with such physical candour, she left the audience uncertain as to whether losing it was an act of gravity or one of choreographic intention.

Urban Circus is like a shot of pure energy in the arm, and a bright and happy addition to this carefully curated festival. You will leave feeling as though you can fly.

  • Urban Circus is directed by Daniel Buckland and produced by Michelle Fok, the Cirk and the Hilton Arts Festival. It features lighting design by Joshua Cutts, acrobatic choreography by Orlando Vargas and The Cirk and is performed by Vaughn Hurly, Kimona Moodley, Claudia Moruzzi, Sipho Mqotsha, Brian Ngobese, Nataniel Pires, Marco Vargas and Demi Wentzel. It is on at the Hilton Arts Festival on Saturday September 24 at 12:15pm and Sunday September 25 at 12:15pm in the Theatre.

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