Balancing on the Edge

Balancing on the Edge combines the talents of A Girl in the Sky Productions and the Thin Edge New Music Collective.  It’s a challenging and exciting blend of New Circus and Contemporary Music (for some definition of both/either).  The circus element included aerialists, juggling and clowns while the music varied from Cage and Xenakis to pieces composed for the show.  There were live projections too.  The show was divided into six “acts” with some clowning interludes and other breaks for set up but mostly it was pretty fluid.  The performance space, the Harbourfront Theatre, was pretty much cleared down to a single ring of seats at ground level with more seating in the galleries, which allowed plenty of space for the various rigs employed.

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Magma was first up.  It’s a dance/aerialist piece for two performers (Rebecca Carneyand Diana Lopez) using rocks suspended on ropes.  It’s an exploration in symmetry and movement to a soundtrack by Nicole Lizée in her squeaky turntable mode.  It was followed by Naked to the Sky; a movement and juggling piece where the performer was surrounded by motion sensors that “conditioned” the live sound track specially composed by Scott Rubin.  This was loud and dissonant both physically and musically and left the stage covered in plastic balls and bits of paper so cue the clowns.  I’ve seen a fair bit of new clowning so I’m prepared for pretty much anything but a double amputee in a garbage bin, Erin Ball, and sidekick clown-academic Sonia Norris were pretty dark by any standards but very funny.  Sonia’s co-opting of the audience into clearing the stage while Erin performed on silks was bizarre and touching.  Later they would appear with Erin in a vacuum cleaner and a whole bunch of pedicure jokes backed up by brandished lower limbs.

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The first half closed out with Emily Hughes performing Underneath; an aerialist act exploring personal reactions to grief with a relentless Xenakis percussion score.  This piece also saw the first use of live projections by Evan DeRushie.  From high up these were amazing.  I’ve no idea what they looked like from floor level though.

The second half of the show opened with Ascension; three interwoven personal journeys linked by an aerial ladder.Angela Murdoch and Holly Tredennick produced most of the aerials here but the star was surely Stacie Dunlop performing a bizarre John Cage piece for soprano and tape while alternately walking around in rapid circles and interacting with the aerialists.  I cannot begin to describe the range of sounds she was required to produce.

Excavating Meaning again dealt with grief and loss through a personal mourning ritual designed as aerial and floor performance by Brandy Leary.  It was accompanied by an elegiac and rather beautiful piece by Nick Storing for strings, saxophone, piano and percussion.

The final piece Ghost Bicycle explores the experience of death and what may come after through the medium of a cycling accident.  Some really cool aerial work by Rebecca davi Leonard and Natasha Danchenko with a lot of help on the floor from a large “corps de ballet” and brilliant use of projections again, this time by Jason Brown.  The music here was David Lang’s Cheating, Lying, Stealing; another lyrical and evocative piece.

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So, a fascinating show that only, I think, begins to explore the possibilities of combining contemporary art music and new circus.  The concept seemed to work best when the two elements were fully integrated rather than the music being, more or less, a soundtrack for the circus act.  That though requires an intense and long collaborative creative process which is always going to be exceptional.  The results though are deep and satisfying in just the way that slickly produced quasi new circus shows (e.g. Cirque) are not; Reimann or Adams vs the latest Broadway blockbuster perhaps.

The sad news is that yesterday evening was the final show of the run so if you missed it you are out of luck.  I hope these two groups have the opportunity to put another show together and if they do I’ll be there!

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