Underbelly’s Circus Hub on the Meadows
I’ve never been to the circus. Queuing outside The Lafayette, Underbelly’s 550-seater circus tent on the Edinburgh meadows, I wonder what was waiting for me inside. In my head I’ve got a vision of traditional circus: of ringmasters with big, curly moustaches, clowns juggling and performing tricks, maybe even elephants? I mean, probably not elephants.
Reader, that is not contemporary circus. The reality is somewhere between elite gymnastics and daredevil dance – and this company are no clowns. A thumping rhythm sets the tone early on as the performers set off on a relentless whirlwind of stunts, the pace of movement hardly dipping throughout. There’s a poised, composed intensity to each member of the crew. And they need it: some of these moves are absolutely heart-stopping. The visual tableau is so varied and undulating that, before I realise, a human pyramid is forming three performers high. The smallest of the troupe is astride the top, moving fluidly as sinews strain beneath her. This is impressive in itself before she throws herself off. I gasp. She is caught. The performance continues with a nonchalance that borders on arrogance as spontaneous applause courses through the crowd. I later discover that the jumper is an understudy performing her first show of the run – wow.
Circa are clearly defying the limits of physical performance, but they’re also pushing the envelope of what modern circus is. Whilst most lifts are performed in a traditional man-lifts-woman composition, we are also treated to a number of role-reversals. I find myself searching these out in each movement, marvelling each time at the strength and stability of each performer. The show also plays effectively with humour. The cast are so precise that after a while it’s impossible to foresee them making errors. A number of tongue-in-cheek refusals to catch other performers as they tumble to the floor in pre-planned moves reverses this expectation. It keeps the piece fresh and enjoyable.
I find myself mesmerised by the stark physical artistry of the troupe as they impressively move through the gears of powerful acrobatics and trapeze contortion. It is impossible to take my eyes off their work, each remarkable human form displaying machine-like efficiency and aesthetic brilliance. The tension between space and body has me gripped throughout.
This truly is circus for the modern day, about as far from my expectation and assumptions as possible. Well, bar one aspect – there is one impeccably groomed moustache on display.
Created by Yaron Lifschitz with the Circa Ensemble
Commissioned by The Mondavi Center, UC Davis
Directed by: Yaron Lifschitz
Original Music by: Ori Lichtik
Lighting Design by: Paul Jackson
Technical Direction by: Jason Organ
Costume Design by: Libby McDonnell
Circa: Humans 2.0 plays at EdFringe 2022 until 27 August. Further information and bookings here.