Wunderkammer, Wales Millennium Centre, Donald Gordon Theatre

Wunderkammer Yaron Lifschitz and the Circa Ensemble Circa Contemporary Circus
Yaron Lifschitz and the Circa Ensemble
Circa Contemporary Circus,
Wales Millenium Centre,
Donald Gordon Theatre

Despite a somewhat slow and uninspiring (although technically skilful) opening section, Wunderkammer soon gloriously exploded into a high octane ensemble piece that proudly paraded the seven performer’s impressive variety of circus and acrobatic skills.

This contemporary Australian company want to break the mould and deliver a challenging and eye-opening circus experience that can completely change an audiences’ opinion on just what ‘circus’ is. By extending the powers of the human body to undeniable extremes they wish to deeply and emotionally affect the spectator rather than just wow them with superficial spectacle. They undeniably achieved their aim in terms of challenging people’s pre-conceptions, so many members of the audience left whilst exclaiming ‘I really didn’t know what to expect but it certainly wasn’t that.’

Wunderkammer meaning ‘cabinet of curiosities’ is a rag-tag, mish-mash of oddities. It is presented as a series of solo exhibitions of ability, punctuated by highly choreographed ensemble acts pulled out from the imagination of the creators. Unfortunately not all the oddities are interesting. In some places the pace completely dropped and so did the audiences’ attention, it sometimes felt like they needed a ringmaster to add cohesion and maintain velocity. It was an unfortunate combination of truly incredible and original work layered with seemingly pointless segments that sometimes wandered into uncomfortable territory.  Although the show is promoted as being suitable for children over the age of eight some of the raunchy outfits and saucy interactions are bordering on the voyeuristic. This is a real shame as in other sections the more raunchy elements were completely justified and added a playfully cheeky dimension to proceedings.

No doubt the highlight of the evening was Jared Dewey’s contortion routine on the trapeze. He twisted and bent his fragile, bird-like body in a way that was oddly touching and gracefully grotesque. As he rotated almost a full three-hundred-and-sixty degrees around his dislocated shoulders there was an unmistakable sense of reaching for the impossible and finding hidden confidence within. Equally mesmerising and misshapen this inspired display demonstrated circus skills as a true art form rather than just a series of cheap laugh-inducing tricks.

Kimberley Rossi in Wunderkammer
Kimberley Rossi in Wunderkammer

But don’t think this was a completely sober and serious affair: a reverse strip tease provided some intelligent comedy whist an athletic and boisterous display of clowning from the male cast fulfilled the need for some slapstick humour.  Mostly the cast was silent but when they did speak it was worth the wait, a really clever spoof of dubbed martial arts films saw a male cast member providing the vocals whilst hiding behind a much smaller woman who mimed stylistically out of time.

The staging was wonderfully simple, a series of red and green neon poles created a boxing ring effect that framed the performers and showcased their talents rather than drawing undue attention to the technical details. This was certainly the right choice as every one of the acrobats had something special to offer and the lighting design by Jason Organ was used effectively to highlight their physical expertise. One particularly impressive display relied heavily on strength and trust between the ensemble. Rather than the usual trick of a woman standing cheerleader-style upon a strong-man’s shoulders the roles were completely reversed – astoundingly strong women balanced large muscular men upon their shoulders or heads! Freyja Edney took this display of superhuman strength one step further and at one point managed to support not one, but two fully grown men at the same time.

 Freyja Edney in Wunderkammer
Freyja Edney in Wunderkammer

Contemporary circus seems to be very popular at the moment with various companies touring the world with their new take on the art form. I have to say that I have recently seen other companies who manage to create something a lot more cohesive and therefore more entertaining than Circa’s current show. Although not as successful as it could have been, Wunderkammer is still certainly worth watching even if just to witness the extreme lengths that the performers will push their bodies to. This will certainly be a company to keep an eye on as they are only going to get better as they continue to experiment and collaborate. Their brave approach to theatre making will certainly pay off in a huge way in the near future.