Much of circus is about the spectacle; making unbelievable feats of human strength and agility effortless and entertaining. After the success of Humans at Sydney Festival in 2017, Circa returns with the revamped Humans 2.0 which examines touch, intimacy, connection in the wake of COVID-19.
Physical performances are often described with cliche as watching the human body “pushed to its limits” or seeing what the body is “capable of”, phrases that come with the silent caveat that, of course, only certain bodies can do what circus performers do. But ignoring this caveat and continuing to describe these performances as representative of all bodies’ ability limits the way an audience can relate to the performance, muddles the messages in the movement.
Part of Humans 2.0 is the spectacle of watching a person launched across the stage or three people stacked on top of each other. But what stood out about this performance were the quiet moments where time and attention were paid to simple touch. Frequently throughout the performance, as the pacing slowed, director Yaron Lifschitz grouped the ensemble in pairs or trios where they slowly grappled with each others’ bodies. Whether this worked like a slow, tight dance or ended in an elaborate trick, the effect of these body knots came across the same. One of the largest crises to come out of 2020 was witnessing the impacts of isolation and touch-starvation amongst people who were quarantining alone or who were trapped far away from home. So it feels fitting to see touch used to represent connection and humanity on stage as recognition of this need.
Humans 2.0 could be divided into three distinct parts, distinguished by the costuming by Libby McDonnell. Beginning in warm neutral colours, the ensemble of 10 performers played with the round stage design, recreating the movement of clock hands and making allusions to evolution or growth. From here the design became slightly less cohesive as the ensemble changed into civilian clothes and then into sleek black leotards for the final section. In a way it’s still evolutionary but moving towards a future perhaps post-human as the ensemble used their bodies to create bigger structures, slithering through each others’ arms like through cogs.
The technical design, directed by Jason Organ with lighting by Paul Jackson and music by Oric Lichtik, was evocative and like an amalgamation of styles and eras. The music was heavy on bass and techno sounds but occasionally featured influences from country twangs or classical music to add warmth and depth. At the same time, Jackson’s lighting moved with the performers to fill the space with warm light or create dramatic cuts and flashes with a colder futuristic edge.
Lifschitz has constructed an absolutely mesmerising production with some of the most talented circus performers in the country. To say the tricks were impressive would be an understatement but Lifschitz also integrated innovative and unexpected uses of the body into the choreography. This meant that the elegance of the ensemble’s performance often hid the build-up to a performative beat and before you knew it the tower had dissolved back into a pile of moving bodies. Humans 2.0 is an invigorating performance of extraordinary humans but with an affirming undercurrent supporting it.
Humans 2.0 is running at Carriageworks from January 14th – 21st as part of Sydney Festival
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