Zoe Kramer reviews Sabotage, a production from NoFit State challenging the conventions of what a contemporary circus can be.
NoFit State has long since established itself as a leader in the avant-garde performing arts. The circus is often overlooked or outright disrespected in many artistic circles — antiquated images of lions in cages and garish clowns dominate the image of the craft. But circus has a place in the twenty-first century, and NoFit State’s new production Sabotage shows that it can be just as sophisticated as any other piece of theatre.
The show begins with a dressing-room tableau: a charming reminder that in the topsy-turvy world of the big top the boundaries between onstage and backstage are blurred. The structure of the show highlights individual talents with connecting comedic bits elapsing the time where technical adjustments are being made, which for the most part served to keep the audience engaged, although the pace of the show lagged at times in these interconnecting moments.
Sabotage features several breathtaking aerial performances, each of which puts a different but equally engaging spin on the discipline. From a performer suspended by their hair to a giant trailing coat, equal attention is given to technical prowess and stage-picture. Dance and athletics and emotive acting all blend together into one. Gracie Marshall’s hoop performances were no less captivating, even without leaving the ground. A plain white palette allows for the focus to remain on the true reason anyone enters the big top — the appreciation of feats of coordination and balance most of us can’t even comprehend achieving.
The impact of the live music performers cannot be understated. There was not a moment where the music was out of sync from the performers. Beyond accentuating the beats of the performances, the music was disarmingly sensitive and emotional, venturing well beyond “isn’t this exciting?” It created a much needed cohesion between each of the acts.
The story of the show is less narrative and more dreamscape, as a wartime motif washes away into a summer beach holiday which down the line evolves into a disco frenzy. Certain moments receive callbacks, for example, the initial image of performer Teddy Helemaryam bouncing a football resurfaces at the end of the show, where instead of performing the trick alone, he has a partner to pass the ball back and forth with. This understated storytelling has an efficacy that transcends language, however it does raise the question of whether the show fits its title. Sabotage requires a saboteur — whether that’s an external or an internal force at play. There are moments when this type of an internal struggle surfaces, but the title is at most a loose descriptor for a handful of themes embedded in the performances.
Still, that isn’t to say that the show wasn’t artfully curated. Moments of high octane spectacle like a giant spinning hoop with two performers on either end are interlaced with visually quieter moments, like the simple yet powerful gesture of a performer removing their wig. While there are literally and figuratively many moving parts, and the connections between subsequent acts can be somewhat obscure, that is what makes the show work. After all, if you could guess what was about to happen next, wouldn’t you be a little bit disappointed?
Sabotage is, in the words of its producers, a grown up circus which is not unsuitable for children. Whether you’ve never been to the circus or you’re a long-time veteran, only the most sullen of cynics could fail to be awed by this strange and magical show.
Find out more about Sabotage from NoFit State here.
Zoe Kramer is a regular contributor to Wales Arts Review.