Friday 21 February 2014

Happening at the Barbican: Circa and the Debussy String Quartet

Circa and Debussy String Quartet in Opus - Photo credit: Justin Nicholas
Circa and Debussy String Quartet in Opus
Photo credit: Justin Nicholas
Opus: Circa and Debussy String Quartet Quartet: Barbican Theatre
Reviewed by Hilary Glover on Feb 18 2014
Star rating: 4.0

Circus and Shostakovich string quartets combine a remarkable theatrical circus.

Bound together by a love of Shostakovich, the resulting collaboration between the Australian circus/contemporary dance group Circa and the Debussy String Quartet from France, brought Opus at the Barbican Theatre to life. All the performers, whether dancing or playing, were on stage and took part in the event. More than just background the music and musicians were integral to the look and feel of the dance. And what a dance! More vaudeville than ballet, and more acrobatic than contemporary dance, these 14 dancers brought circus skills to a new level of artistry.

The Debussy String Quartet, Christophe Collette and Marc Vieillefon on violin, Vincent Deprecq on viola, and Fabrice Bihan on cello, met while studying at the Conservatoire de Lyon, France, and have been playing together since 1990. In 1993 they won the Evian International String Quartet Competition and in 1999 they founded ‘Les Cordes en Ballade’ a summer chamber music festival and school in the South of France at which they teach and perform. They became interested in dance and have worked with Circa since 2013 and are also currently collaborating with the contemporary dance group Compagnie Käfig.

Circa, under the directorship of Yaron Lifschitz, have expanded from a local Brisbane group to an international company, touring their unique shows around the world. It is hard to pin down exactly what they do. Lifschitz, said in an interview that “It’s contemporary circus that looks quite a lot like contemporary dance. It’s sophisticated, it’s edgy... it features bodies moving really beautifully”.

The idea for this show came from a conversation between Lifschitz had about his favourite composer, Dmitri Shostakovich’s (1906 -1975). The choice of the Shostakovich string quartets (of which there are 15) was inspired as they are gentle enough to not intrude too far forward of the dancers, yet contain exciting moments that could be used to great advantage, yet also have a dark, underlying passion which enhanced the drama of the work.

Circa and Debussy String Quartet in Opus - Photo credit: Loll Willems
Circa and Debussy String Quartet in Opus
Photo credit: Loll Willems
Circa used a variety of circus techniques, silk dancing, trapeze, hoops, and tumbling, but mixed this up with contemporary gymnastic ideas, and synchronised effects, requiring split second co-ordination. Towers of people came and went, strong man techniques were pitted against beautiful, heart wrenching, dances where it was difficult to get at the emotion of it all. There was a gentle, almost loving undercurrent tempered with violence in pushing and pulling others around.

Facial expressions and body language sometimes suggested that the dancer in question did not know why they were there, nor what was happening to them, as they performed some fiendishly difficult routine. One of the most moving scenarios was when they ran around the stage in a big circle like a flock of birds or fish.

Throughout the Debussy String Quartet were on stage, moving around and interacting with the dancers. Most of their playing was without music (and for a large part they are blindfolded) and for someone who does not know the quartets intimately it is difficult to tell if they were playing straight or were improvising/stretching to give the dancers time to finish their routines. I am sure that for a performance like this a great deal of thought and collaboration has gone into exactly how it all fits together.

In the programme notes Lifschitz explains, “I want to create works that deeply move audiences. [...] I want them to exist beyond words [...] that moves you, without being able to say why.” Circa is running at the Barbican until the 22 February 2014 before moving back to Australia. Catch it while you can.
Reviewed by Hilary Glover
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