The Radiohead song “Where I End and You Begin” comes to mind while watching Circadium’s new work HELIOPAUSE. In physics, a heliopause is the place where the bubble of our sun’s influence ends, and solar plasma gives way to interstellar. It is an apt metaphor for the time of isolation we’re emerging from, and the new graduating class of Circadium explores its depths through circus art.
The piece begins by easing non-performance into performance with no warning, no lights dimmed, the troupe swaying in a cluster off to the side. Throughout the show they flock together, occasionally ejecting a member or two to perform a solo piece. The techniques they use are traditional: juggling, unicycle, tightwire. But with thoughtful lighting (Kyle Hanahan), soundscapes and wabi-sabi grouping, the effect is magical. Legs morph into seaweed, and balls into bubbles. The group’s hand movements and bird calls turn the stage into a swamp. Tumbling acrobats become solar winds, threatening to disturb tightwire walker Madeline Falley, splitting and spinning on her wire. All the lines and circles embody the theme of beginning and ending, and the movement of the group as a whole, often imitating the motions of the solo performer, softens the edges of self.
The work, dark and almost Medieval at times, is also very playful. Much of the show feels like clowning, probably influenced by director Molly Saudek’s background. Each stick and ball and hoop has play potential. As solos become duos, we see a timid outreach from the self to others, reminiscent of early childhood friendships. Jugglers Liam Halstead and Liam Bradley build with blocks and balls and Rock, Paper, Scissors with each other like kids at a playground. The unicycler (Kevin Flanagan) continually steals toys to build elaborate sculptures. The hooper (Maya Zuckerman) acts extremely frustrated in her piece, angrily spinning and hurling her hoops at would-be playmates. The days of avoiding “hot lava” in the kitchen come rushing back when the talented corde lisse artist, Zachary Herzig, nonchalantly lands on the stunt mat as the rest scream in horror. Earlier, the folded mat had tragically eaten another performer. It is later slain, to much applause.
The amount of circus art compared to the amount of flocking and clowning is less than one might expect from a circus piece, but it all merges together to form something new. There are some brilliant beginnings of ideas that could have lasted longer, especially when Herzig and Zuckerman join the hoop and the much larger Cyr Wheel in a concentric circle dance, but the work as a whole is a satisfying and pertinent return to theater after such a long period of isolation. If this is the future of American circus, we have a lot to look forward to.
Part of FringeArts Hand to Hand Circus Festival, various locations, June 3-13, 2021; fringearts.com/2021-hand-to-hand-circus-festival