Yaron Lifschitz

Finding humanity at the intersection of contemporary dance and circus

Circa stages West Coast debut of Humans in Portland

Circa, Australia’s leading contemporary circus dance company, has chosen Portland for the West Coast premiere of Humans, which runs through October 13 at the Newmark Theatre. This is a smart show with lots of audience appeal; it’s family-friendly enough that there’s even a Sunday matinee. Artistic director Yaron Lifschitz describes Humans as “a report on what it means to be human. How can you express the very essence of this experience with your body? Where are your limits, what extraordinary things can you achieve and how can you find grace in your inevitable defeat?” This show quickly reveals how contemporary circus arts can help answer these questions about the human experience.

According to dance critic and producer Cindy Sibilsky, contemporary circus performance was “born out of the desire to utilize the exceptional physical vocabulary of acrobats, aerialists, contortionists and other specialty-skilled performers, modernize them and update the expressions bodily, emotionally and visually and transform both audience and critical perception of what circus is and can be.” Circa just as effectively explores what contemporary dance is and can be.

Circa in “Humans.” Photo by Pedro Greig, courtesy White Bird.

Aesthetically, Humans is stripped down. Almost every trapping of traditional circus is missing: there’s no knife-thrower flinging sharp objects around an assistant’s body, no clowns, makeup, animals, ringmasters, juggling, or really any props at all, save the few that can support performers (trapeze and aerial straps do appear at points). There are touches of slapstick in some of the performers’ interactions, but no dedicated passages of physical humor, as would appear in a traditional variety-style circus performance. Acrobatic movement is the major part of circus heritage that Circa brings to the stage, along with intense collaboration, coordination, and trust among the performers as they display world-class acrobatic prowess. The physical stakes are high enough to elicit gasps from the audience many times throughout the evening.