Circa brings human touch and animal magnetism to QPAC

After returning to the stage as part of Brisbane Powerhouse’s Lights On series in August and wowing Brisbane Festival audiences with Leviathan, contemporary circus troupe Circa are returning to QPAC with two tried and tested shows as part of the Queensland’s Own program.

Oct 26, 2020, updated Oct 26, 2020

Humans will be staged at the Playhouse from November 18-22 and Carnival of the Animals will be held at the same venue from December 16-20.

Created by Circa’s artistic director Yaron Lifschitz, Humans is performed on a bare stage that exposes the vulnerability of its team of ten acrobats.

Lifschitz said the production explored how people’s bodies, connections and aspirations all form a part of what of means to “be human”.

“When you share a space with someone and the rhythm catches and you feel like you’re a part of the same heartbeat – that’s the experience of Humans,” he said.

“At the moment, when we’re so deprived of contact, and you feel so kind of spiritually denuded after we spend you know an hour on Zoom, to be in a space sharing movement is just a really great, joyous offering and I think it’s the perfect kind of moment for that.”

Since its 2017 premiere in Sydney, Humans has toured throughout Australia – including a sold-out season at QPAC the same year – and since been performed hundreds of times in 19 countries.

Circa performers in Carnival of the Animals, which is being staged at QPAC in December. (Photo: Justin Nicolas, Atmosphere Photography)

Carnival of the Animals brings the classical music of Camille Saint-Saëns to life for a family friendly show that is full of whimsical tales of creatures of the land and sea portrayed by acrobats who tumble, fly, leap and spin their way through the worlds of the animal kingdom.

It was first staged as part of QPAC’s Out of the Box children’s festival in 2014 but Lifschitz said it was “a show for everyone”.

“My guess is that not a lot of young people have been to the theatre lately and I think that’s a pity because you need a certain amount of exposure, it gets under your skin and it gets into your psyche and that’s what we need.

“I think we’ve got some time to make up but I’ve watched audiences around the world react to Carnival – from South America and North America, to France and all around Australia – and I’ve seen them kind of just connect to its imaginative force and it’s charming, simple beauty.”

Lifschitz said 2020 had been a difficult year for everyone in the performing arts world and Circa had just started Leviathan in Perth – which they also performed at QPAC for last month’s Brisbane Festival – and also opened a season in Paris when COVID-19 effectively put a halt to the entire sector in March.

“We had some auditions and rehearsals on a Friday morning and I called everyone from the company in to meet me at 4.30pm, just before a normal show call time, and was expecting at that time to tell them that we were planning on finishing on the Sunday,” he recalled.

“By the time I got to the lunch break, it was going to be finishing on the Saturday and by the time I got to when I was supposed to meet them it was going to be finishing after that show on Friday, and by the time I’d finished the conversation we weren’t going on stage again on that Friday night.

“Everything was evolving rapidly, we had to bring people home, people went into quarantine, I came home – it was deeply disconcerting.”

But Lifschitz said in addition to creating fear and uncertainty, the situation also forced everyone in the industry to flex their creative muscles.

Circa’s Carnival of the Animals. (Photo: Damien Bredberg)

“I think everybody really rose to the occasion,” he said.  “We had boards, funding agencies, people we needed to come on the journey when we needed them did.

“I don’t want to sound Pollyanna-ish about it because it’s been a really tough and tricky time, but I’m very proud of the way everyone at Circa – and I think, on the whole, the arts industry in Australia – has done a really great job of going; ‘Well we just got swallowed but we didn’t give up’.

“We got swallowed whole, everything shut down overnight, but we didn’t give up and that’s because this is a business that’s not fuelled by money.  It needs money to drive it but they are real jobs and we care about that and at the end of the day this is a vocation, and it’s hard but we’re not afraid of hard work.”

Lifschitz said Circa was the first arts company in Australia to be granted an exemption from social-distancing measures for its performers.

“We petitioned vigorously to the Chief Health Officer and I think we just fought for the stuff that we believed in, which is that we have to stay safe but we need to be doing what it is we do. I think it’s pretty clear that everybody wants to be doing stuff but you have twin challenges of compliance and economics.

Lifschitz praised what he termed a “great deal of collegiality” on the arts sector since the emergence of the coronavirus pandemic but also said he thought, “a huge percentage of the performing arts hasn’t recognised that our competitor is not each other, it’s Netflix, it’s inertia – sitting on your sofa and paying nothing and absorb something that’s already pre-digested”.

“We’re facing a real crisis at the moment, we’re facing challenges that require us to be cognitively and imaginatively incredibly fit and at the same time, we’ve done everything we can as a civilisation over the past 15-20 years to get as flabby and unfit cognitively and imaginatively as we can. We can’t concentrate, we can’t read a paragraph, we can’t sit with a thought. We’re used to things being pre-digested; it’s getting harder and harder at the exact moment where we need more of it.

“I think the arts have a critical role to play and to say, yeah you’re going to come here, we’re going meet together and it’s not all going to be easy.

It’s not all going to be four-four time and three chords, or a well-made play or pop songs – there’s a great place for all of those things in the world but it’s not the only thing. If it’s the only thing we have we’re in deep shit as a civilisation.”

Lifschitz said he understood what he described as a “mild society-level agoraphobia”, admitting he had also initially felt some trepidation about returning to work after quarantine, but he was quick to add that “the biggest advantage of going to the theatre at the moment is you get to go in business class”.

‘You get both armrests, there’s no one sitting on your outside, you’re not squeezed in, it’s really comfortable, so take advantage of it while you can because yeah in a year’s time, they’ll be packing you in like sardines again.

“Right now, you’ve got a business class seat for some of the greatest theatre and opera and classical music happening anywhere and it’s happening right here.”

Humans will be staged at QPAC’s Playhouse stage from November 18-22; and Carnival of the Animals December 16-20.  Visit QPAC’s website for more information.

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