The internationally acclaimed “Circa” brought it’s astonishing show “Humans” to The Wallis this past weekend, Nov. 1st and 2nd. This is the first foray into the world of circus arts for the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts and they could not have done better. The Wallis was once the Beverly Hills Post Office notable for it’s architectural beauty and eight fresco murals painted by artist Charles Kassler. These lunette murals are one set of only two remaining in the entire California Federal Building system. In preserving the history of this important landmark and bringing in carefully curated shows such as “Circa” The Wallis has created a cultural destination for us all.
“Humans” is the vision of Artistic Director Yaron Lifschitz, in collaboration with his company, to show what it means to aspire to, to connect to and to be human. This is a journey and we are taken for a wild seventy-minute jam-packed ride.
A large illuminated rectangle is visible on the otherwise bare stage. As the audience settles in, a person in street clothes nonchalantly walks from the house onto the rectangle and begins to undress. This is done slowly with deliberation. Once down to his shiny gold dance shorts he lays out his clothes as another person begins to disrobe. This continues as most of the ten-person ensemble eventually goes through a version of clothing removal ending in gold or rust colored dancewear and black net T-shirts. Costumes are by Libby McDonnell. While amusing at first it goes on for too long. The last person to arrive onstage carries a bundle of black clothes and lays it on the stage. As he exits it comes to life revealing a young woman who struggles to disentangle herself from the mess of clothing. Like a difficult birth it is painful to watch. Is this a comment on where we came from?
The music amps up and the acrobatics begin full force. An East Indian/Klezmer style rhythmic track and the acrobatics build at a fast and furious pace. As an opening statement this segment is less interesting than what is to come as the performers struggle slightly to stabilize their footing and find their center. Still the split second timing is laudable especially when all ten performers are tumbling at once in well-rehearsed pandemonium.
Working through a series of interwoven but untitled segments the company does find its balance. What becomes clear is the super human technical skill and sheer fearlessness of the acrobatic cast. “Humans” overwhelms the senses with its brazen physicality. Moments of awe inspiring strength by both men and women, mind bending agility and ever inventive movement fill the stage at every turn. While continually bowled over by the staging and acrobatics the “Human” connection the “raison de etre” is often missing.
Cecelia Martin does not have this problem as she mesmerizes with a solo routine on a swiveling trapeze. Rapidly changing from one position to another as if caught in a whirlpool, she dazzles with her flawless technique and mastery of her medium.
A slow-motion section that follows is also effective. Seemingly bound to the floor the full company gyrates, flips, slips, twists and turns like newly turned earth worms accompanied by a mournful cello.
Nostalgic music gives a particular grace to a beautiful acrobatic hand balancing solo by Jarrod Takle.
The follow up to this is a not very funny routine in which each performer tries to” lick their own elbow,” an impossibility. The Barry Manilow tune “I Can’t Live Without You” is wasted here. The humor when attempted is lacking and needs more direction. This includes “Please, Please, Please” by James Brown a piece that never reaches it’s potential. While lightening up the intense mood set by the fierce athletics is a good idea more understanding of comedy is needed.
Kimberly O’Brien and Marty Evans however, are a magical combination in a puppet like sequence in which he gently molds her body to his will in ever evolving arrangements. Sensual and intense this was a moment for the audience to slow down and catch it’s breath while basking in the beauty of the music and movement.
Visceral thrills continue apace as the stage is filled with mind-blowing feats of balance, strength and innovation. The denouement is a ferocious rope climbing solo by Sandy Tugwood that will have you on the edge of your seat. Ingenious and savagely performed it is like nothing you’ve seen before.
In the final moments the full cast works in sync rolling and reaching together in an all too human gesture. Overall this is a remarkable show, worthy of The Guardian quote, “The mighty CIRCA.”
The equally gifted company members not named above are Caroline Baillon, Piri Lee Goodman, Keaton Hentoff Killian, Hamish McCourty, and Daniel O’Brien.
Technical Direction is by Jason Organ. No music or composer credits are given to the exceptional music used throughout. The reviewer recognized the two that are named.
If “Circa” comes to a theater near you, go!
Written by Tam Warner for LA Dance Chronicle, November 5, 2019.
To visit the “CIRCA” website, click here.
To visit the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, click here.
Featured image: CIRCA performing “Humans” at The Wallis. Photo by Kevin Parry.