Jacob's Pillow: Brace yourself for Circa


BECKET -- Don't look for the Sugarplum Fairy at Jacob's Pillow this week. Circa, a seven-dancer troupe from Brisbane, Australia, is about hefty biceps and glutes, with women in black leotards and bare-chested men performing feats of strength and balance that must be seen to be believed. Forget tutus and toe shoes. Forget any shoes.

Circa was here two years ago, at the Pillow's 216-seat Doris Duke Theatre. This time it's been promoted to the main venue, the 619-seat Ted Shawn Theatre, where it appears through Sunday. It describes its calisthenics, acrobatics and scanty props as "bringing circus arts into the 21st century,"

A circus, however, has more props than anything: large animals (and whips), glittering costumes, ring setups and surfacing, clown cars, trapezes, and all the cotton candy and peanuts hawked in the aisles. This low-prop installment of Circa's show, titled "S," centers on the sinuous flexibility of the letter and the parallels to it that can be created with the human -- or superhuman -- body.

A diamond-shaped stage upon the stage has a translucent oval lighted in one or another color (by Jason Organ) that contrasts with the rear lighting. As the show opens, Freyja Edney is flat on the floor on her back, head toward the audience. She arches her back a few inches at a time, until she is eventually standing.

There is more to say about the petite redhaired Edney, who has been in the company for 4 of her 24 years. For instance, her extended stomach can support a man (Robbie Curtis on Wednesday) who jumps onto it. He can walk on her while she does the split. She stands up and he steps onto her head. He can raise her from the floor backward, by her upper teeth. (There isn't a one of these performers who can't lift two of the others.)

Halfway into the 85-minute show, Edney does a number with hula hoops, the first props to appear. She spins within four white ones -- one on her hips, one on her chest, one on her neck and one on her foot. Very nice, but that's been done. What isn't usually seen is six shiny blue hoops spinning around her in multiples of two, changing to three, and regrouping as she wriggles, in ways of her choosing.


"S" has elements of three-ring circus, with daredevil stunts, aerial fabric tricks and a surfeit of places to look at things happening. Add elements of competitive figure skating, with centrifugal force tricks -- like a man spinning around and spinning a woman by her arms, a foot above the ground. Or the intertwining bodies of the Pilobolus company. Or Alice Muntz and Phoebe Armstrong, each held by two boys, swung back and forth by arms and legs, then flung upward, swapping places in the air.

Not to mention side-show contortions, such as Jarred Dewey's bending Armstrong's leg until her toe is in her mouth, and then she can't get her toe unstuck. Dewey is among those who show off in the air on black or white fabric streamers, making it appear that he's working on a trapeze, but the trapeze is an illusion -- he's sitting on nothing, held by fabric twisted around his arms.

A sequence with smoothly balanced bowls of water recalled Michael Moschen: little spills, such as when someone did a handstand, were gracefully swiped up.


The recorded 2004 score, "Uniko" by Kimmo Pohjonen, a Finn, is performed by Kronos Quartet plus guests. It's long and varied, with flavors of Middle Eastern belly dance and plangent medieval-sounding strings, which change to minimalist motoric mode. There is a big minimalist section during the fabric trapeze section, and once in a while, one thinks of big waves.

Near the end, Muntz wired Todd Kilby's chest for sound and taped a microphone onto his chest, so when she backhanded him on the chest, the sound was amplified. That was pretty funny. Then she stuck the mic in his throat and kissed him. His noises were really funny.


Closing the show with the same image as the opening -- Edney on the lighted oval floor of the diamond shape on the dark stage -- was a graceful touch, but also a reminder to the audience's newly expanded imagination of what possibilities are hers, and Circa's.


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