Dance, Reviews, Stage

Landscape with Monsters review (Illawarra Performing Arts Centre, Wollongong)

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You wouldn’t necessarily expect a leading circus arts company like the Brisbane-based Circa to find some of its greatest inspiration in Wollongong, but Landscape with Monsters is a rare work, as thought-provoking as it is heart-stopping.
Directed by Circa’s artistic director Yaron Lifschitz, the show takes its inspiration from the way that humans interact with the natural and built environment, particularly the small coastal NSW city of Wollongong, where manufacturing and industry meet a beautiful natural landscape.
Circa has previously toured to Wollongong, but this work is a co-production between the circus company and Wollongong-based Merrigong Theatre Company. In it, six acrobats work their way through a built space, at first piling on top of, inside of, and hanging off a single, tall timber box.
Having just six performers allows you to really get to know the individuals on-stage — their strengths, their abilities, their sensibilities and their relationships with the other performers. There’s Billie Wilson-Coffey, Kathryn O’Keeffe, and the contortionist Shannon Vitali. The men are Paul O’Keeffe, Rudi Minuer, and, providing the strong, solid base for the other performers, Gerramy Marsden.
Together, they create some extraordinarily striking images, particularly the final one, in which all the bodies come together to form a spectacular human bridge.
Despite the small cast, it’s a very dynamic and varied 75 minutes of performance — in moments full of intense danger, in others playfully funny, and in others lightly romantic.
There are no traditional circus apparatuses in Landscape with Monsters, and the show feels richer and far more inventive for it. Most of the show is performed with just boxes (I’m reminded of when you buy a child an extravagant toy in a big cardboard box and they just end up playing with and inventing worlds within the cardboard box), but there’s also a huge ladder, some planks upon which the performers balance, and a simple steel lighting truss, all designed by Jason Organ.
Darryl Wallis’s sound design is an engrossing mix of industrial sounds and recognisable popular melodies, including David Bowie’s Heroes and several iterations of Quizás, quizás, quizás (popularised by Doris Day as Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps). Toby Knyvett’s lighting traces the dynamics of the performers perfectly, while his minimal but attractive projections provide punctuation with images of built environments and manufacturing.
There’s an intriguing relationship between the way the bodies of performers are used in acrobatics and the way the bodies of workers are used in a traditionally industrial city like Wollongong. While the outcome of these two bodily pursuits are completely different, bodies are stretched and used, and placed in some degree of danger in both to create something greater.
And there are moments in Landscape with Monsters that feel more genuinely dangerous than anything I’ve seen from Circa before — especially when you consider that this production is performed on a hard floor. There’s a sequence in which two performers precariously balances a massive steel ladder over another performer’s head. It’s hard to not be reminded that you’re in a city which has had its fair share of devastating industrial accidents (quite a few of them involving steelworkers having some body part crushed).
While it was only appropriate that this show premiere in Wollongong, it deserves to be seen all around the country. It’s already programmed for the Latitude Festival in the UK, but here’s hoping it will pop up at some Australian festivals in the next few years. It’s the best I’ve seen from Circa.

[box]Landscape with Monsters has finished its season at the Illawarra Performing Arts Centre but tours to the UK later this year.
Featured image by David Kellie[/box]

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