Skilfully executed, audacious and deeply personal circus from a 22-strong collective.
Photo credit: David Levene
As the auditorium lights dim, 22 performers walk out onto a bare stage. We see different body shapes, different ages, different heights. Their clothes are casual, their feet bare.
From among them, two men one older, one younger, begin to fight. Their violence is contagious. The fighting spreads. Bodies grapple; we hear a gasp for breath, the scrape of feet seeking purchase, the thud of a body hitting the stage. Chaos reigns.
As sparse beats begin to play the violence transforms, like a conversation segueing from argument to enthusiastic agreement. Beauty emerges from darkness. Bodies fly.
Created collaboratively by French collective Compagnie XY, Il n’est pas encore minuit… (‘It’s not yet midnight’) is a striking example of circus stripped bare and bursting with vitality and ideas. The use of apparatus is kept to a minimum: there are no hoops, no cyr rings, no trapeze. Nor is there any safety equipment save the collective’s hands ready to catch a companion if they fall. Apart from a teeterboard used to launch performers into the air, and a series of wooden panels which are used to lift and display performers late in the piece, the focus here is squarely on the body; its agility, strength and finely-honed skills.
The sense of connection and support between performers is palpable – a tender glance here, a close embrace there – and unlike some recent circus works there’s a strong sense of agency among the female members. Indeed, one routine features women alone, with no men present or required; a rare example of a circus work that passes the Bechdel test.
The level of skill on display is high, while the level of trust developed between the troupe (the collective live together, train together and developed the show together without leaders or directors) allows for some deeply impressive routines: startling dives, folk dancing conducted in a two-high circle; thrilling flips and tumbles; a four-high tower emerging from a mass of bodies before gently subsiding again; a three-high falling dramatically into the throng only to be raised up again to gasps of delight and whoops from the enthusiastic audience.
Moments of seriousness are punctuated by levity; heteronormative couplings are disrupted by a male couple dancing together or two women looking softly into one another’s eyes; there is dancing, exuberance, joy.
Elsewhere, tonal shifts create a more sombre mood; a single figure walks across a sea of hands as the lighting dims. Tension is accentuated as the music stops, focusing the audience’s attention on a particularly challenging or thrilling trick or routine, and while at times there’s a nagging sense of emotional distance from the audience – as if the passion created is contained onstage rather than being extended out into the auditorium – such restraint also allows one to more carefully observe the degree of expertise on show; only as the production develops does one feel truly caught up in the moment.
Seating issues in the Regal Theatre result in audiences seated close to the stage missing out on some of the subtle floorwork and footwork on display, but the overall impression left by Compagnie XY is of a troupe of performers exulting in their artistry and close connections.
A short-post show speech emphasises the collective nature of the performance we have just witnessed. 'Alone we go faster,' says the speaker. 'Together we go further.' Il n’est pas encore minuit is a richly rewarding beginning to this year’s Perth Festival.
4 ½ stars out of 5
Il n’est pas encore minuit…
Regal Theatre, Subiaco,
9 February – 4 March 2018
Richard Watts travelled to Perth as a guest of Perth Festival.
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What the stars mean?
- Five stars: Exceptional, unforgettable, a must see
- Four and a half stars: Excellent, definitely worth seeing
- Four stars: Accomplished and engrossing but not the best of its kind
- Three and a half stars: Good, clever, well made, but not brilliant
- Three stars: Solid, enjoyable, but unremarkable or flawed
- Two and half stars: Neither good nor bad, just adequate
- Two stars: Not without its moments, but ultimately unsuccessful
- One star: Awful, to be avoided
- Zero stars: Genuinely dreadful, bad on every level