If you’re reading this blog, you may very well know that the Chicago Contemporary Circus Festival happened over the weekend.
Here’s what I’m here to tell you. The Acrobatic Conundrum know what they’re doing and they do it beautifully. Consider this a review, consider it a retelling of what I saw. In reality it’s a blog post sonnet of admiration that I dedicate to that wonderful group.
The lights dim, the curtain rises. It’s a bare bones scene that resembles something like a boiler room. A couch, a bathtub, an old bike, grey pipes. If anything resonates with life or color it has to come from the performers themselves. Without speaking, it’s already clear that each one has a vastly different personality. A woman provocatively draped over the couch is smoking a cigarette. Another woman sweeps the floor with concentration. A man with a goofy grin wanders the room looking about. All is quiet until an alarm sounds, signaling a package. One by one new people are delivered to the scene in bags. They jump out in shock or surprise, looking at their surroundings in fright. Everyone is slowly realizing that they are stuck in this one small room, all eight of them, all very different. They entered, but they can’t leave. They ricochet off each other in an organized chaos of spins and flailing limbs.
And so their experience begins. In a seamlessly blended story, each performer plays with physicality the way a child sees the world with excitement. They impress and confound each other as they discover each new apparatus that falls from the ceiling. Aerial straps, silks, static trapeze, rope, cyr wheel, and juggling all make their appearances. But then there were also the moments when they used nothing but their own bodies. Did you think that there were only a number of ways to balance on or flip over a person? It’s not true. These performers are endlessly creative. My personal favorite was when the bathtub and it’s piping became an apparatus. One performer danced and contorted her way from laying in the tub to gripping the shower ring with just the skin of her feet. She moved with an amazingly fluid grace, even while wearing a dress that was sopping wet. The whole show varied from beautiful moments like that to scenes with high energy like the juggler that I’m convinced had no ties to gravity. The show wasn’t separated in acts, it was tied together by them. Contemporary circus is a combination of all arts. This show was theater, dance, music, video, and the fine-tuning of human strength/grace/ and coordination that is circus.
When I found my own way out, I was cold and slipping on ice with scraped ankles all the way back to the train. But damn if it wasn’t worth every step I took to see the show.