Down, instead of up. That is how things fall when they are dropped. But in the worlds of circus and dance, the body doesn’t have to give the appearance of being a servant to gravity. In the worlds of circus and dance, the body can defy gravity. And gravity is what pulls three pieces by three different choreographers together in Les 7 Doigts’ Triptyque, presented as part of Melbourne Festival at the Playhouse late on a Sunday afternoon. A swirling galaxy is made, beginning with Marie Chouinard’s Anne & Samuel, and Victor Quijada’s Variations 9.81, before pulling up the bed covers with Marcos Morau’s Nocturnes. Gravity is a beautiful force to test.
To see performers on the stage or beneath the big top, testing the laws of gravity through orchestrated movement is also one of the reasons I head to the theatre or circus. From where I sit, motionless, I can, through the art of transference, feel what it is like to soar. This is freedom: freedom from my own heavy and uncoordinated limbs; freedom from any kind of physical injury or mental anguish; freedom from routine. This is escapism. And in the hybrid landscape of dance paired with circus, or rather, in the case of Les 7 Doigts, circus with dance, I am afforded the jolt of liberation I crave.
A composite state of circus meets dance affords freedom not only from gravity, but from rules, and expectations. And so a perturbed postman glides through the scene on a unicycle, before colliding into mime, and the tails of the Spanish web recall those of giant unseen animals as they thwack the stage. With Frida Kahlo and Restless Dance Theatre’s Michelle Ryan in mind, I had come for Anne & Samuel — to see how a body can move when a pair of crutches is required for mobility, be it due to injury, disability, or age; to see movement through perceived limitation; to see reinvention and resilience — but it is beneath the covers of Nocturnes that my heart curls.
Roll up, roll up, and watch these muscles flex. With white feathers on his shoulders and a little of Dr. John the Night Tripper beneath his hat, ringmaster Elyas Khan has brought his ensemble to town. On the banks of the Yarra River, direct from the U.K., Limbo is here as part of Melbourne Festival. Unpacked from the chest, the death-defying, hand-balancing, internally-sprung tomfoolery of Danik Abishev; the Chinese pole and beat-boxing smooth stop-and-start controlled hijinks of Mikael Bres; the out-of-this-world fire-breathing, sword-swallowing, gum-chewing sass of Heather Holliday; the magnificent ‘mind-bending’ contortions of the tattooed Tigris (with forearms not unlike Popeye’s, and something of a measured roar); and the heavenly aerial acrobatics of Allard. With Mick Stuart on ‘polymba,’ drums and bass, and Eamon McNelis (of The Band Who Knew Too Much and Flap! fame) on trumpet and sousaphone, bringing a little of the New Orleans brass band sound, the objective is clear: if you’ve a pulse, you will be entertained.
Limbo draws not only on circus stock roots, but also on the titillation of cabaret. With my waist un-synched, I may not quite have been transported back to Le Chat Noir in Montmartre in the late 1880s or Le Lido on the Champs-Élysées in the 1940s, but on a balmy spring eve, it came close, this melange, very close. In the blue smoky haze and dim lighting we all became a little of our own inner Toulouse-Lautrec or Marlene Dietrich.