By Joana Simmons
Diving into a world of chaos, National Institute of Circus Arts’ second-year ensemble show Precipice defies danger in an effort to celebrate life. The cast of 19 young athletes, under the direction of Zebastian Hunter and guidance of their world-class teachers, perform exhilarating tumbles, turns, shifts and falls using a range of apparatus in solo and ensemble pieces. This is the most professional student work I have seen at NICA, and is an absolutely astounding production in regards to skill, concept and music.
The high performance space at NICA in Prahran is clad in stark scaffolding and plastic in a set designed by Stephanie Howe. Two performers are suspended from the ceiling, as if they are falling from the sky reaching for each other. The first act is filled with struggle, with performers leaning and reaching, about to jump off the edge, only to be pushed or struck down by another performer flying or flipping into them. The music- played live in violin, cello and piano and directed by David Wiskin provides fantastic tension and adds to the frantic nature of the movement. Standout individual performances included Adam Malone’s hula hoop and head-balancing trapeze act: I was on the edge of my seat as he effortlessly balanced on his head whilst swinging and spinning through the air, above his cast mates lying in a puddle of laughter below. The adagio waltz featuring Poppy Fairbairn and Zion Martyn was also wonderfully refreshing, as they played a couple having a fight at a party and standing on each other’s heads to spite their face. Their characterization and flow through their stunts was strong, and it was supported well by the cast.
Act two found the performers displaying bland urban costume, torn and dusty, with contemporary dance-inspired rolling and twisting, and moving up out of the ground. My jaw once again remained dropped for Ciara Thorburn and Liam Dummer’s chair balancing. The themes began to evolve more through some spoken word, reminding us we are creatures of love and after chaos we emerge, but we need to feel the fear and leap into the void that is change. The mood lightened with the chin-up contest: it is incredible that after suspending themselves in all sorts of directions the performers can bang out 20 chin ups, with the female cast members winning in the end. Overall congratulations go to Lyndon Johnson for his strong performance on the Roue Cyr (big ring) and commitment in the acrobatics and ensemble numbers, while my favourite of the whole show was Emily Chilvers, an absolute gun on the rope, handstands, and acrobatics.
The creative team have done a stellar job of showcasing these young professionals in the best way possible. Directed by Hunter and devised with Meredith Kitchen, not only is this show an athletic spectacle, it also interrogates the impermanence of time, physical and psychological senses. The monochromatic lighting by Matt Cox works well with the industrial set. Some of the ensemble choreography was somewhat predictable, and repetitive, though as it was executed with full commitment it was still highly effective.
Australia’s circus scene is becoming of a higher and higher caliber and it is incredibly exciting to see students be pushed to deliver such a strong and slick production. There’s is a handful of circus shows on this year’s Fringe program: Precipice is a thrilling, eye-opening, edge-of-seat spectacle.
PRECIPICE was performed from Wed 20 – Sat 23 September 2017 at the NICA National Circus Centre. For information about upcoming productions, visit www.nica.com.au