By MARK BLANKENSHIP
When you hear the title 46 Circus Acts in 45 Minutes, you may think you know what you’re getting. And in a way, you do.
After all, this family-friendly spectacle, now playing at New Victory Theatre, does feature four members of Circa, an Australian troupe, performing forty-five circus routines in three quarters of an hour. They even bring a clock on stage to prove they’re true to their time-sensitive word. “As far as we’re concerned, there is no life after this if we don’t do what we say we’re going to do,” says Yaron Lifschitz, Circa’s artistic director.
However, the show is more than a gimmick, and the time limit has an intentional significance. “It’s a joyously open contract with the audience,” Lifschitz says. “We all follow the same clock. Having an allotted amount of time and racing against it, yet knowing how to have joy within that, and repose, is now a fairly common process around the world. This show wouldn’t have made sense thirty years ago. Our relationship to time has changed.”
In other words, as they flip and bounce and bend, the Circa performers embody all of us. They’re on stage accomplishing impossible things in an impossibly short amount of time, just like so many of us are forced to do if we want to stay afloat in our hyperconnected world. And if they can have fun while they’re doing it, if they can find occasional moments for stillness or beauty within their constraints, then maybe so can we.
But as Lifschitz notes, the performers can’t do anything in isolation. They need each other’s bodies---actual, physical bodies, not computer-screen images---for balance and support. Their work is a reminder that contact, touch, and proximity are often necessary to achieve things, even in 2010.
For Lifschitz, circus is exciting precisely because it delivers this kind of message. “If you treat contemporary circus right, it puts the audience in very direct connection with their mortality, their sense of possibility,” he says. “You’ve got extraordinary bodies doing impressive things. You’ve got performers giving of their spirits in all sorts of ways, and you actually have to be there to see it, to really feel the risk. When you see a performance later on YouTube, it’s already happened. The act has already been performed. But when you’re there, sharing space with the performers, the risk becomes palpable. It’s kind of existential: People stop existing if they screw it up.”
Not everyone thinks of circus this way, of course. For some audiences---and some performers---spectacular tricks, often accompanied by elaborate costumes and music, are more than satisfying.
Lifschitz acknowledges that this type of circus has its place, but he prefers minimal sets and costumes, limited special effects, and spaces that keep the audience and the performers close together. He refers to the other, flashier style as “dessert,” and he jokingly adds, “I see us as the Whole Foods of circus. We’re looking for what’s nourishing in this medium.”
Mark Blankenship is TDF’s online content editor