WTF 2014 Brisbane Powerhouse
February 13 – 23 2014
She Would Walk The Sky
February 14 – 23 2014
Reviewed by Xanthe Coward
An acclaimed Australian playwright and a world-class contemporary circus ensemble combine to create this acrobatic odyssey.
Combining the beautiful prose of multi-award-winning playwright Finegan Kruckemeyer (The Tragical Life of Cheeseboy) and the talents of critically-acclaimed circus performer and director Chelsea McGuffin (Cantina, Circa), She Would Walk the Sky is a special commission inspired by the theatricality and scale of Brisbane Powerhouse.
A story told above, in and around the audience, She Would Walk The Sky sees new fables and old myths unfold in the vaulted halls of Brisbane Powerhouse. Leave behind the world you know and enter a land where old fires, lost dreams and new hopes linger amidst the broken skies of an old empire.
Oh wow, what a magnificent finale to WTF14! Chelsea McGuffin’s She Would Walk The Sky, commissioned for Brisbane Powerhouse, is indeed an odyssey, taking us on a strange and exotic journey from the Turbine Platform to a place in a parallel universe, inhabited by birds and circus artists.
It’s an 8:30pm show on a school night, much too late for Poppy – she’s been to two shows in two days already – but she insisted on seeing this one, the last offering from this year’s festival and I’m grateful she experienced it. This is a different sort of circus. Circus is so often bright and shiny and colourful – we are so used to Cirque’s style now (my sister just took off on the USA tour of Michael Jackson The Immortal World Tour by Cirque du Soleil!), and while She Would Walk The Sky is by no means a show without the colour and texture and tone and shine and finesse of exquisite technique and trust (not to mention gorgeous costumes by Tigerlil, intriguing writing by Finegan Krickmeyer and artful direction by McGuffin), it lays claim to a slightly different aspect of circus performance, harking back to the original vaudeville acts, blending storytelling, intense relationships, performance art and acrobatics to create something very special, and somehow, a little bit eerie.
The tricks are, of course, fabulous, demonstrating superior strength, balance and perfect timing, which rivals just about anything we’ve seen under the Grand Chapiteau, only in here, in this versatile space inside the Powerhouse, it’s such an intimate experience that we try to stop ourselves even from breathing, let alone gasping under our breath! When incredibly skilled performers like Mozes step into the spotlight, this is an almost impossible challenge, especially when his daring acts are backed by the stirring music played live by performers, and the musicians and composers, Trent Arkleysmith and Sue Simpson. The intensity is heightened because every other performer also has their eyes glued on Mozes as he spins and drops; it’s a fine lesson in focus and only one example of the tone of some parts of the show. On the flip side, there is lovely humour in the piece, and delicate, well-studied movement by Alex Mizzen, who has not only acquired the ticks and flicks of a gentle, beautiful, fragile birdlike creature, but has donned enormous eyelashes to make her look like Amazing Mayzie’s coy little sister.
The show is emceed by a rather clownish host, the youngest of the troupe, who confounds us with bits and pieces of prose, unfinished thoughts and definitive statements about the future of two of the performers (nothing comes of their pairing in the show, they will never end up together, nothing will come of it!), turning upon its head the notion of the ringmaster who is always in control. One of the most poignant moments of the show is felt when a heavy length of rope drops from above and continues to fall on top of him, burying him beneath its weight. At first it’s funny, but then the joke goes beyond, and somehow it becomes a forlorn observation on the fruitlessness of even trying at life. I almost cry. Is it just me? I have no doubt that I would have a different reading of the entire piece if I were to see it again.
I love this – and this is actually why I read the program notes, just for these gems – the intuitive writer, Kruckmeyer, has “given them some words, and left them to walk the sky.” He says, “It’s always a nice thing to give words (so static and wishing for life) to actors (so alive and waiting for words). But to give words to circus performers is something else entirely…”
“As humans, we balance, we fall, we are lifted, we are not. We fear for others, and we rejoice in what they do.”
She Would Walk The Sky is evocative of anything lovely and sad you’ve ever remembered, and I can’t wait to experience it again sometime soon.