Boyana Buyuklieva reviews the little details that makes Circolombia’s performance at the Southbank resonant for modern audiences.
The Circolombia experience at Southbank starts before the curtains even open. The mood is set from entrance of the Underbelly Festival with a burst of tropical colours and a comfortably-packed, casual-chic crowd. The saturated vibe in the street-food court leading into the unsuggestive Belly Theatre makes one forget that the gentle breeze swaying the vibrant buntings is coming from the murky gray Thames just behind. Beyond the buzz and into the Belly, the performance area itself is bare. It is reminiscent an urban hinterland: a dark blind alley where someone, at some point, had forsaken a dozen of theatre seats.
In a way, this casual arena was the perfect for contrast for the energetic and citified 14-strong cast that has its origins from Colombia’s Circo Para Todos. The show is light-heartedly amicable and includes about a dozen acts of classic circus repertoire. These range from aerial performances, acrobatic flying, Russian bar, teeterboard and banquine, to name a few, and include the occasional song in between. The attire of the whole cast feels like it could easily be from Urban Outfitters – rough and rugged trainers, complete with skinny jeans and topped off with the odd suspenders or military-style top. The choice of music by Ryan Wilmott is not far from what you would expect on a summery night out in your twenties.
The show has a distinctly young and rebellious flavour with a hipster tint. For example, the aerial silks performance à trois with Martinez, Velasquez and Rincon, barely feels like standard, red-velvet circus spectacle. The silks are swapped out for thick cords (the type you would see those ubiquitous bare, tungsten-wire lights dangling from in a hip café). The aerial artists themselves feel like gravity defying-baristas, that just happen to effortlessly dazzle, all whilst waiting for the expresso to finish for your flat white.
The technical skill in the performance leaves little room for critique. Although there is story-telling in each act, too much is greedily squeezed in. This leave little time for the development of each idea and so the stories occasionally come across as flat. For example, the aerial couple Velasquez and Rincon had built up enough attraction through their skillfully smooth, yet passionate performance and it therefore felt unnecessary to end their act with an explicit and somewhat forced French kiss. To a lesser extent the coarse, uplifting message in the cloudswing monologue felt a little banal, but the act by Aja was well-rescued given her technique on the swing. Where narrative did come across with ease was in the singing interims when all the performers were casually dancing on stage and the perch ring act, with duo Ramirez and Hurtado. The latter especially created a lot of atmosphere with very little props. The ring is used as a portal into a dream world created by two lines of performers behind it, a single light and a little smoke. The acrobatic performance is stunning and its finale beautiful: as she steps off the ring the acrobatic base, reaches for her. Just out of grasp, she drifts back into the dream world and remains just a vision in his head.
Despite shortcoming in narrative, it must not be forgotten that the one came for circus, not theatre and either done well is a lot of work. As a circus, the show is a success and charmingly so because it is such a contrast to the extravaganza usually associated with the genre. Felicity Simpson’s vision is bare and personal. The cast doesn’t hold back from much: be it a quick, casual rest on stage between the acts, the occasional cheeky grin from the acrobatic flyers or Bachata dancing at the finale. The intimate size of the arena lets one count the pearls of sweat that build up before a daring act and see every contour of the performers’ unconcealed tattoos. As if Colombian circus did not sound cool enough.
Circolombia will be performing at the Underbelly Festival until the 14th July.