Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts
February 18–20 2015
Reviewed by Ruth Ridgway
I think it’s just a beautiful thing to put fragility and strength together in one show. There are so many different ways of using that with acrobatics. It’s a hugely physical show. We’ve spent an hour jumping on each other, swinging from trapezes, so we’re very tired and we need a lot of strength, but also it’s about being tender with each other as well.
Jesse Scott, Casus Circus
Using eggs as a symbol of both fragility and strength, Casus Circus’s show Knee Deep frequently reminds us of the opposition between these qualities. The egg, like the human body, is fragile and breakable, but also strong.
Performers Kali Retallack and Jesse Scott literally ‘walk on eggshells’, proving that this can be done without breakages (if you are very careful and very skilful). This act metaphorically represents many circus acts, in which performers achieve feats that are impossible for us untrained people, and dangerous for the fragile body.
At the start of the show, Retallack walks on three half-dozen cartons of eggs, with Scott moving the back carton around in front of her to allow her to take another step. Later, Scott himself stands with each foot on a dozen eggs in a carton on a small table, which is in turn balancing on the tops of four bottles. These moments are filmed and projected on a large screen at the back of the stage, showing Scott’s feet very close up, like the feet of a giant – comical and also a bit sinister.
Other ‘egg’ moments occur through the production. Early in the show, one egg is held by different cast members through a complex balancing and acrobatic routine, finishing with Retallack standing on the shoulders of Jesse Huygh, who in turn is balancing on the shoulders of Scott. Retallack drops the egg into a glass bowl, where it smashes – in a clear analogy with the fragility of the human body if it dropped from this height.
To the sound of a French chanteuse and guitar, Scott performs a whimsically flirtatious ‘duo’ with an egg in an eggcup on the floor, balancing and contorting around it, and (eyewateringly) standing and jumping on his bent-over toes.
The acrobatic routines throughout the show are spectacular, and dance-like in their continuous flow, with many exciting lifts and throws. These intersperse the equipment-based routines including straps, silk, aerial ring, hula hoops, and static trapeze.
There were many moments – too many to describe here! – when the audience applauded and/or cried out in amazement at the feats performed: for instance, the drop manoeuvre in Natano Fa’anana’s aerial silk act; Huygh’s feats of strength and endurance, hanging by one arm from the straps; and Retallack, in an acrobatic duo with Scott, suspended by her mouth from his hand.
In one of the most spectacular, Retallack lay on the floor with Scott standing on her, then got onto all fours, and finally to her feet with Scott standing on her shoulders. Retallack is tiny, and Scott tall – it was a stupendous feat. Another stellar moment came when Scott stood on his head on the bar of the static trapeze, with Retallack hanging from his hands, and extended his legs out away from the support of the trapeze ropes.
A contrasting act for Scott was his dexterous and parodic performance with the hula hoop, in dappled pink lighting, and accompanied by the romantic song Dream a Little Dream of Me. In the background, Fa’anana and Huygh clowned around as if learning to hula hoop.
Retallack performed a lovely routine on the aerial ring, rolling, spinning, and stretching in hyperextended poses. She is tiny and elegant, but very strong, and has an aura of appealing mischief and playfulness, which particularly came through in her act on the ground with a small metal ring, through which she contorted and extracted herself in various ways (at one point going through the ring bottom-first).
Fa’anana, too, displays a sense of mischief in a routine that starts with him trying to pluck an imaginary something from the air – a feather, a mosquito? Some kind of insect, apparently, as he stomps on it and then starts a very masculine body percussion routine, for which he is stripped of his black pants and waistcoat and revealed in grey stretch shorts.
The three other performers join him in fast acrobatics and unflinching body percussion. Scott and Huygh have also shed their pants and waistcoats to appear in shorts and a short unitard, respectively, while Retallack’s short grey and black dress has gone, revealing her in black pants and crop top. Fa’anana had one shoulder taped and, distractingly, one end of the tape was coming loose.
One small section of the show didn’t seem to quite fit with the rest. Crouched at a small table, Huygh folded a tiny origami figure with his back to Fa’anana, who drew the figure on a pane of glass as Huygh folded. They ended up with a 3D and 2D representation of the same thing. Huygh was filmed and the action projected at the back of the stage, but it was still hard to see what he was doing.
The four performers work extremely hard in this one-hour show, and you can often see the effort and the muscles trembling. In the sense of being totally engrossed, and engaged in a very difficult task, ‘knee deep’ is a catchy and appropriate title for the show.
The only ‘frills’ are the lighting (Rob Scott) and the soundtrack (which is not credited – it would have been nice to know what all the pieces of music were). Other than that, it’s just the performers themselves and the circus equipment, and no fancy effects.
On opening night, the large and lively audience, swelled by the presence of school groups, applauded enthusiastically throughout, and leapt to their feet at the conclusion of the show.