Review by Thomas Gregory
Circus performance can be an odd beast at times. There are the acts themselves, those death-defying maneuvers that require years of training and the physical abilities far outside anything an ordinary human could obtain. Then there is the show itself, often beyond the control of the circus performers, but integral to ensuring that what is seen is entertainment, rather than simply an exhibition.
“Eclipse”, the graduate show for NICA’s 2022 class, is a visual spectacular to showcase all that the students have learned throughout their degree.
It is important to remember that this class is different from most. A quite significant proportion of their studies have been done while locked down in their own homes. They might be able to keep up with their fitness regimes, but to practice many of their techniques, they need the custom-made venue where they ordinarily train. More importantly, the time spent at home is time in which the students as an ensemble are not working together.
This disadvantage brought on by the pandemic is nowhere to be seen during the performance of “Eclipse”. It is almost unbelievable how in tune each student appears to be with those they work with.
During one moment in the show, five performers tackle the always-impressive cord-lisse. Then, upping the ante, other students take the ends of the five ropes and begin to tangle them. Despite having seen many circus performances, this was one of those few where I was on the edge of my seat. The danger that must have been present, and therefore the trust between students, would have been quite high.
Smaller moments, which many would have missed, include students moving to help those whose muscles were tiring, catching the odd slipped foot, and being quick to adapt to a timing change.
There are few forms of performing arts in which serious injury is a possible consequence. The actor who misses their line won’t break their leg. The singer who misses a note won’t end up in hospital. It is in their works that you see divas and people trying to upstage each other. In the circus, that sort of mindset has no place. The NICA graduates of 2022 know this, and their show is a thousand times better because of it.
The show that is “Eclipse” is more inconsistent than the exhibition. At times, it is an impressive extravaganza, while at others the “entertainment” side appears to detract from the incredible work the students have put in.
Eclipse is ostensibly inspired by “The Pandemic is a Portal”, an article by Arundhati Roy. Without knowledge of the article, little is understood of the narrative, and even some of the themes presented in the colorful and frenetic show. Unfortunately, after reading the article, I am left even further confused. A scathing critique of governments’ response to the pandemic has somehow been transformed into something I can only guess is about finding hope for the future.
The show is a visual feast, with clever transitions and brilliant use of stagecraft. The set design by Eloise Kent and Angelica Ru should be compared to the great musicals that come from overseas, and the opening scene of post-apocalyptic chaos will be forever remembered.
Other elements of the show are far less spectacular. While the live musical accompaniment by Louis Frere-Harvey added to the night, the physical appearance of acclaimed soprano Judith Dodsworth is distracting rather than engaging. This is not her fault, of course, and her voice is incredible - it was simply so out of place and not what I come to see in such shows.
“Eclipse” is a fast-paced performance filled with highly energetic professionals that we are sure to see in the big productions all over the world. As a show, it faces some problems in writing and direction, but it is still the sort of event that Melbourne is lucky to have. It is worthwhile to go and see the next generation show they are ready for the world of circus arts.