Circus experience stays below the stratosphere

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The excitement level was upped by duo skaters Evgenii Viktorivich and Natalia Viktorovna. Photo: Mark Turner.

Circus / “Cirque Stratosphere”, The Works Entertainment, at Canberra Theatre Centre, until December 21. Reviewed by BILL STEPHENS. 

THE Canberra Theatre Centre is rapidly becoming the “theatre de jour” for producers to premiere their shows. It’s a win-win situation because Canberra audiences get a first look at shows, which sometimes go on to international success like “Circus 1903” and “The Illusionists”, and for the producers, it’s the opportunity to finesse their show “out of town” before touring it nationally and even internationally.

Emma Dutton… performed gracefully in an aerial hoop. Photo: Mark Turner.

Such is the case with “Cirque Stratosphere”, which had its world premiere in the Canberra Theatre last night and despite the often astonishing skill of the featured acts, the show’s concept, which surrounds their individual acts, still has a way to go to make it comprehensible.

A printed program might have helped. Hopefully it would have explained what the show was about, who the audience was watching and even who created the show. But, for most of the audience, they were attracted by the publicity hyperbole of experiencing “the Canberra Theatre stage transformed into a futuristic space-age utopia in which a troupe of Olympic-standard acrobats and gymnasts would perform gravity-defying acts on a scale never seen before in Canberra”. 

Variations of most of these acts have been seen in Canberra before, though rarely performed at the skill level exhibited here. So it seemed a pity that the audience did not realise that it was Anna Lewandowska who gracefully melded dance and acrobatics to perform an impressive act with her LED Sphere wheel, or Polina Volchek who amazed with her strength and elegance performing on a vertical metal pole, or Emma Dutton who performed gracefully in an aerial hoop, or that it was spinning artist, Felice Aguilar accompanied by three anonymous dancers, who performed a mesmerising, beautifully staged interlude.  

Although the excitement level was upped by duo-skaters Evgenii Viktorovich and Natalia Viktorovna, flaunting their dazzling roller skating skills on a tiny two-metre circular stage; and although Dmitry Makrushin and Oleg Bespalov drew gasps from the audience with their astonishing strength and flexibility performing hand-to-hand acrobatics; and even though smiling Nicholas-Yang Wang and Shengpeng Nie proved crowd favourites with their hoop diving prowess; the efforts of Dmitri Feliksovich and Denis and Nikolai Alexandrovich with their teeter board act, Oleg Spigin’s amazing Washington Trapeze act, and Antonio Leyva Campos’ bungee straps performance seemed restricted by the low Canberra Theatre proscenium. 

Despite the impressive high-tech paraphernalia, troupes of choreographed, marching space-persons, dazzling light displays, and a booming, unintelligible soundtrack, how these elements related to the impressive feats performed by the highly skilled acrobats and gymnasts, remained very much a puzzlement, especially when the mood being created by the various elements was continually interrupted by mildly amusing, but totally unrelated, audience participation segments of the two amiable mime artists, which destroyed the continuity and slowed the pace. 

No doubt the creatives will take advantage of the Canberra season to tighten and polish the show so that by the time it leaves the Canberra Theatre it will truly be the stratospheric theatre experience promised.   

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