Art that aims to be part one thing and part another has a tendency to wind up nothing at all. That's the worry when watching Circa, the Australian act often described as almost circus and almost dance.
But thatâs an imperfect portrait of this company. Circa is not part circus, part dance. Itâs all circus, just in dance packaging.
Take a circus show, throw away the kitsch, popcorn, animals and gaudy costumes, and throw in some stage lighting and French music, and you have Circa. The performers, the majority graduates of the National Institute of Circus Arts in Melbourne, seldom do any dancing, instead acting as acrobats and clowns. But without the lurid flashiness of the big top, the show feels more sophisticated.
Still, oneâs sophistication is anotherâs stuffiness, and taking the pageantry out of the circus has the potential to leave it joyless. This concern was resolved on opening night by two loudly giggling girls, no older than 8. During a silent, flirty piece between two performers comically trying to be taller than one another, one girl judiciously exclaimed, âI really like this act!â
Circa has the suspense one expects from circus shows. As a performerâone who seemed wobbly in earlier actsâattempts to do a handstand on stacks of 6-inch-wide wooden blocks, stomachs tighten as they tend to do when you sense approaching embarrassment. Then the dancer pulls it off and the crowed applauds in relief. Of course, thatâs nothing compared to the apprehension of a later moment, when one male dancer lies on the floor as a female dancer emerges wearing ruby-red high heels. You can guess where she walks next.
The show has marvel, too. In the most impressive feat, performer Jessica Connell begins with one hula hoop and the music of Jacques Brel. By the end, sheâs spinning too many hoops to countâperhaps 8?âand uncannily moving them independently up and down her body.
While the quiet restraint of a pared-down circus is appreciated, a more decadent show might be more satisfying. The drab, grey costumes could have color. The performers, capable as they are of winning over an audience with charm, could ham it up a bit more. But with indulgence comes a question of excess. Something does feel missing from Circa, but is it something you need or something you only want?