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Send home the clowns: Circa’s Opus

Jul 30, 2013

Fourteen acrobats and four chamber musicians come together in Circa‘s bold new production Opus to expose the raw heart of the 20th century and take contemporary circus to daring new heights.

Under the leadership of Artistic Director Yaron Lifschitz, Circa has spent the better part of a decade proving that circus can offer more than ‘a bunch of acts loosely strung together with some fanfare and a couple of ta-dahs’.

While the Brisbane-based company is now an industry darling, boasting sold-out shows in theatres across 24 countries, Lifshitz admits there were times where the group was accused of sucking the joy from the medium. Rather than tread the easy path, Circa’s response was to become ever more challenging, embracing risks both artistic and physical in an effort to create powerful, emotionally-driven shows designed to confront as well as entertain.

In Opus, acrobats share the stage with musicians from France’s renowned Debussy Quartet, performing the work of Russian composer Shostakovich. Lifshitz describes Shostakovich’s music as a despairing love letter to humanity; intense and formal but not afraid to turn up the schmaltz in order to draw out a response from its audience. To this score, Circa’s artists bring an ensemble performance filled with intimate moments and improvisation – more sculpture than storytelling, says Lifshitz.

‘In a sense what we want the work to do is to be a non-verbal expression of an emotion that doesn’t have any other name – in fact an emotion that you hopefully didn’t even know you could feel until you saw that work,’ he explains.

The ambitious project has not been without its challenges. Performers Brittannie Portelli and Kimberley Rossi admit it was initially difficult to share a stage with such a large group, and to collaborate with a team spread across the world. However, both point to the heightened impact that live musicians lend the production.

‘It’s easier to embody the music when it’s playing half a metre away from you. For me it flows through my blood a lot more than it does on a sound system,’ says Portelli. ‘The incredible part of the music is that it can go from one tiny solo to this epic, huge sounding piece and the beauty of it is that we can do the same as well. That’s what I really love about this show, that it can go from one person and suddenly you’ve got 14 acrobats tumbling towards the audience – the wave of acrobats with the wave of music.’

The dramatic scale of Opus, and its focus on collaboration with live musicians, is a significant departure for the company. However, Lifshitz is hesitant to speculate what impact, if any, this will have on future Circa productions.

‘We’ve grown and we now have a place in the world and that’s a big positive but it’s also a danger. You start to get opportunities based on who you are and what people have heard about  you rather than what you’re actually doing,’ he says. ‘What I want to do is keep making ever deeper, richer, more beautiful authentic things and I don’t yet know whether those are bigger or smaller, weirder or more mainstream than anything we’re making.’

Lifshitz’s driving ambition is to repay the physical investment of Circa’s performers by taking similar risks with the artform as they do with their bodies – to embrace the possibility of failure in order to create something great.

Opus will premiere in Lyon as part of the les Nuits de Fourvière festival and tour Europe before returning to Australia for a local premiere at Brisbane Festival in September.