Circa’s Opus is comprised of four movements – each accompanied by a respective Shostakovich string quartet, performed live by France’s Quatour Debussy. In classically subversive fashion, Circa have opted for the rather unconventional approach of having Quatour Debussy’s players performing on stage amidst – and occasionally in direct physical collaboration with – Circa’s sixteen acrobats.
It’s a great, daring concept for a work. Sadly, Circa don’t fully deliver on that conceptual potential. The initial movements are overwhelmingly Opus’ strongest. Performed to Shostakovich’s Adagio for Strings and String Quartet No. 11, Circa’s initial choreography is relatively simple. There’s a slow, sensual and deliberate energy to proceedings – rarely more than a handful of acrobats taking to the stage at any particular moment.
It’s a restrained approach that blends beautifully with Shostakovich’s work. Against such a backdrop, Yaron Lifschitz’s choreography lands with greater impact. In his notes for Opus, Lifschitz speaks of Schostakovich’s quartets of being ‘personal, political, historical, passionate, violent and lyrical‘ and capturing all of the ‘intimate, personal things‘ Schostakovich was unable to express in his larger compositions.
In Opus‘ opening movements, you can see Lifschitz’s reading of Schostakovich’s charisma. With limited choreography, your eye is drawn to the intricate detail of the Circa Artistic Director’s choreography. The lingering embrace as an acrobat is lowered back to earth. The unpredictable shadowplay leaping from the relationship between performers. An unsettling contrast between a mass of frightened characters and a solitary individual.
It’s truly stimulating work of cold genius and uncommon brilliance that really demonstrates why Circa exist and why they’re so internationally acclaimed – the ensemble effortlessly massaging circus into something alien, profound, elegant and intimate.
Unfortunately, that brilliance isn’t sustained over the course of the production. There are glimpses of it. An endless circular sprint of acrobats across stage is an oddly hypnotic and affecting tableau, for example. Similarly, blindfolding Quatour Debussy’s players for a spell creates a beautiful tension within the work. Particularly as acrobats fly around them. However, there’s a general shift towards spectacle that just deflates the work overall.
It hits with Schostakovich’s String Quarter No. 8. One of Schostakovich’s most famous works (alt-rock legend Mike Patton even sampled it for Faith No More’s Malpractice in 1992), No. 8 introduces a knotty, kinetic energy to proceedings that Circa’s acrobats strive to emulate and exceed. Which doesn’t really work. Where before Opus felt like collaboration, it grows to feel like competition. Eventually, it just looks like sport.
Which is not to say the rest of the work isn’t enjoyable. The most physically demanding spectacular feats occur in the latter half and Quatour Debussy’s performances are simply magical throughout. However, it’s a different kind of appeal. Over the course of proceedings, the appeal shifts from that of engaging in beautiful work to that of observing incredibly proficient performers. Which, from my personal perspective, is unfortunate.
Brisbane Festival presents
Circa and Quatuor Debussy
Venue: Powerhouse Theatre, Brisbane
Dates: 10 – 15 Sept, 2013
Tickets: $45 – $40
Part of Brisbane Festival 2013