Casus is a group of four young Brisbane-based performers, Lauchlan MacAulay, Jesse Scott, Emma Serjeant and Natano Fa'anan, who have created a lovely ensemble work – Knee Deep – showcasing their various skills and challenging expectations of gender differences in physical performance.
Knee Deep opens with Serjeant balancing on a half dozen eggs, a nice motif which is impressively repeated in a group routine towards the end. Casus are at their best with the ensemble work: from the Icarian games and demonstrations of strength to the beautifully integrated trapeze finale, the trust Casus has in its group dynamic is a palpable element of what they do. Interestingly, as circus performers they are often at their best with their choreography and the most charming moments in this show very nearly comprise less circus than dance. Natano brings elements of traditional Polynesian dance into play and, as the rest of the group joins in the clapping and slapping and tumbling, the work is imbuded with a real spirit of connection; one of the show's highlights.
There are a few moments that seem gratuitous in Knee Deep – the nod to hoop work, for example, the little drawing exercise seems thrown in for the sake of whimsy and the nail-in-nose routine appears to be present for shock value – neither of the latter two adds anything to the show overall and sit awkwardly against the lyricism of the rest. Overall, however, this is a show with a core which is genuinely trying to break boundaries in circus and challenge assumptions about gender and strength. Much is made of each performer's physicality and everyone here is given a chance to demonstrate his or her power – you can see the cost to the individuals and marvel all the more for it.
Knee Deep doesn't appear seamless, the performers are working hard and you appreciate their efforts, making Knee Deep, especially in close-up, all the more thrilling. There is something very intimate about what Casus offers here that somehow engages you on a deeper level than usual when seeing this sort of show. Even though what Casus actually does in terms of physicality isn't in itself ground-breaking (albeit very impressive) circus-wise, Knee Deep doesn't allow you to sit back and be entertained; there is something more demanding going on.
I am not sure how much the show is helped by the multi media elements; this is one area that doesn't seem to be as well integrated with the rest of the performance despite the group's intentions to blend tradition with modernity. I wonder whether more development here is needed, as once again there is a feeling of gratuitousness about these aspects.
One thing Casus does very beautifully is to match music to movement (choreography again) to create quite transporting effects. The group trapeze performance at the end is especially impressive, creating a moving finale. Lovely stuff.
Arts Centre Melbourne presents
Venue: The Famous Spiegeltent, Arts Centre Melbourne Forecourt, Arts Centre Melbourne
Dates: 5 – 17 March, 2013