28 September 2017, Spiegeltent, Havelock North
Hawke’s Bay Arts Festival
Smoke and mirrors, that’s how it begins. Dry ice, and ‘Spiegel’ means mirror of course. Circus in the round. In the half light, the faces of the other across from here, the mirrored audience. A single red lamp on a thread. The ensemble troop to the stage. Dancing, entwined.
In their forms and figures they play with gender. There is the strapping lad, the strapping lass, the sylph, the scrawny weed, there are curves and bones and breasts and hips and toes, angled and arched. There is nothing in the way of fripperies and fancies, just raw self. The five are exposed up there, there is no backdrop, no wings, such minimal costuming that the velvet skirt and the scarlet satin corset read like screamers on a page of simple type.
This is a piece that reveals and revels in the Body. What that body can do. But rarely does the audience theorise “How do they do that??”: story triumphs. The conscious process of ‘How’ falls away as audience reacts viscerally. Overthinking evaporates in place of textures and patterns of sublime nostalgic loveliness. The show is a delight, beautiful, dynamic, breathtakingly simple and pure, with a heart that’s full of glee.
The show begins prop-free and builds from there, gently introducing the ropes and swings and hoops of the circus trade. Mirroring this, costume is pared back even further to disappear altogether, five in nothing more than simple grey underwear. Costume or no, the silhouettes of a sideshow vaudeville shtick are referenced here: strongman, trapeze, ringmaster, freak, bearded lady.
Throughout, the red light is anthropomorphised to varying degrees of success. It tells of control and the realisation, by the artist, of who holds that control, who wields it. I am not convinced until its fourth utterance. At that moment, when it becomes a spotlight, something is triggered and I see how the light lifts the control into the hands of the performer. The performers are deeply respectful of each other’s art, space and body. It is an honouring of each, for their individual strengths.
It is a child-like show, but not childish. It is not adults acting children, it is adults as children, completely and convincingly, referencing playground antics and swagger, cartwheels and tag, crushes and bullies, piggy-back rides, rock-paper-scissors and that kid we all knew who was double-jointed.
Across the stage the ‘mirror audience’ gawp, cover mouths, wince to watch the aerial acrobatics, the feats of physicality. And somewhere in the dark outer ring one small child releases gales of laughter, repressed in the rest of us. This one unabashed tot shows us all how it’s done, how the circus needs to be really met. And reminds us of that time when we hung from the monkey bars and believed we could fly, and at five of course we could.