Friday, January 15, 2016

Circus at APAP: Acrobatic Conundrum (Seattle), Company Oktobre (Paris)

Dance, theater, performance folks, scoot over a bit, won't you? Circus has arrived, taking its place among the city's vast APAP-related offerings. The mission? To make visionary, contemporary circus as thriving an artform in the US as it is abroad. For the second year, Circus Now--the community's support and advocacy organization--has partnered with NYU's Skirball Center for the Performing Arts. The festival features six troupes and runs for three nights.

Circus Now: International Contemporary Circus Exposure 2016 opened last evening at Skirball with performances by Acrobatic Conundrum, a Seattle ensemble founded in 2012, and Company Oktobre, an accomplished trio of Parisian performers. Essentially two shows in one, the program ran over two hours. If you're going to program like that, I question the need to have festival MC Sxip Shirey--a musician and veteran of circus--consume time delivering two circus-boosting intros, each with its musical performance. One wild-haired man, his toys and his electronics can sound like a party in full throwdown, but a little of this goes a long way. Next time: One and done.

Acrobatic Conundrum's piece, The Language of Chance, frustrated me. The clear talents of the company--most notably, amiable and multi-skilled Ty Vennewitz--were not matched by signs that anyone grasped the potential dynamism of activating the entire stage space, not just filling it with decor, and the importance of pacing and smooth transitions. Performers often simply crouched or lurked within the set like deadweight while one or another person performed in the center. Contemporary circus can offer a more holistic, integrated stage with people and things cleverly interconnected and interacting. Done right, that makes for truly magical, unforgettable experiences in the theater. Acrobatic Conundrum has produced five shows and made it to this prestigious festival but, by evidence of The Language of Chance, it needs to step up its game.

After Acrobatic Conundrum, intermission, and Shirey Part II, I would have liked to come to Company Oktobre with something approaching freshness of eye and ear.  But that was not to be, which I regret because the sophisticated Oktobre--created by its performers, Eva Ordonez-Benedetto, Jonathan Frau and Yann Frisch and director Florent Bergal--deserves better attention. When you're presenting farce, your technique and timing must be razor-sharp. You have to quickly get your audience invested in your people--total strangers, usually--with their weird and tickling idiosyncrasies, their little sleight of hand tricks and struggles with props. In the case of Oktobre, you're asking watchers to toggle between baffling behavior and English supertitles that only deepen the absurdity. In all things, Company Oktobre is completely on point, and I look forward to any chance to see them again.

Circus Now: International Contemporary Circus Exposure 2016 continues tonight and concludes tomorrow night. Here's the lineup:


Water on Mars (Sweden)
Andréane Leclerc/Nadère arts vivants (Canada) — Whore of Babylon
Barely Methodical Troupe (England) — Bromance


Aloft (US) — Dinner of our Discontent
Water on Mars (Sweden)
Barely Methodical Troupe (England) — Bromance

For complete festival information and tickets, click here.

NYU Skirball Center for the Performing Arts 
566 LaGuardia Place (south of Washington Square Park), Manhattan

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