Wild tricks burst through lush Baroque sounds

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Circa and the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra… This world premiere performance saw a cross-generational mix of audience members kept on the edge of seats for 90 minutes. Photo: Peter Hislop.

CIMF review / “English Baroque with Circa”, directed by Paul Dyer and Yaron Lifschitz, Llewellyn Hall, May 2. Reviewed by HELEN MUSA.

A STANDING ovation greeted Circa and the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra last night (May 2) at Llewellyn Hall on the eve of the 2019 Canberra International Music Festival.

Small matter that it was a day earlier than the official opening, this world premiere performance saw a cross-generational mix of audience members kept on the edge of seats for 90 minutes as the wild bunch of physical virtuosi from Brisbane‘s company Circa performed daredevil tricks to the lush sounds of Baroque music.

The Circa company, four men and three women, each with their own specialty, were first introduced draped in cloth as statues in a courtly hall, quickly bursting into life. With little resemblance to a ballet company, these untamed-looking artists clad in shimmering costumes dominated the stage with a series of exciting experimental gambits — but that was deceptive, and I could tell that each act had been fine-tuned.

Circa. Photo: Peter Hislop.

The evening began with courtly music, with soprano Jane Sheldon, magnificently clad, singing Dowland’s “Behold a wonder here”. The physical action staged an intricate weaving of movement and lifts, perfectly matching the mathematical complexity of the music.

The performance then moved into the art of love in “the bedroom” and sacred music in “the chapel”, with Purcell, Handel, Corelli and an elaboration of the movements and balancing skills from Circa, which saw a collective intake of breath as the chills accompanied the thrills, especially with the extreme bodily manipulations of Giulia Scamarcia.

All the while, first as a looker and then later high above the orchestra on a swing, Sheldon quietly insinuated herself into the action, never reaching a full throated crescendo but providing a subtle background.

For the greater part, while Sheldon and Brandenburg soprano Lauren Stephenson added warmth and pleasure to the performance, the musical heavy lifting in engaging with Circa was done by the orchestral musicians, divided around a central parterre.

While it was not easy to grasp the division of the action into court, bedroom and chapel, the engagement of the strings with the centre stage action, was striking, especially in a scene where three male Circa artists performed an aggressive series of lifts, matched by the strident strings of Brandenburg led by Shaun Lee-Chen.

Noah Nielsen swinging the “diablos” with Jane Sheldon upstage. Photo: Peter Hislop.

Other segments saw some give-and-take, with an opportunity for audience interaction when six exceedingly fit audience members picked at random were brought on stage to become the reluctant partners in a courtly dance.

One “ooh” and “aah” moment saw Circa’s Noah Nielsen using the whole stage area to juggle his swinging “diablo” cups. In another, rope performer Ela Bartilomo held the audience captive with her terrifying slides.

The last segment of the evening saw the thick stage mats removed to provide a smooth surface for the final “fairground” sequence, where Jake Silvestro climbed into a huge hula hoop, Sheldon and Stephenson sang popular period numbers like “Scarborough fair” and “The Gartan Mother Lullaby” and the whole ensemble came downstage to take a bow.

This fascinating performance, a one-off for Canberra and quite a coup for the festival, will now travel interstate. But it proved an intriguing way of getting audience members, young and old, to listen and watch at the same time.

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