Mar 13, 2013 Theatre
The Civic until March 17.
Just before the house lights go down, a chorus of whoops – likely part of “street circus” company Circolombia’s pre-performance ritual – is audible from off-stage. The show hasn’t even begun and already the venerable old Civic is feeling a lot less staid. There’s a short prelude featuring Circolombia’s two female acrobats. Then the bass kicks in, and we’re off .
What follows is 75 minutes of gravity-defying acrobatics, plus some dance moves worthy of a mega- budget music video. It’s all set to a pounding hip hop and reggaeton soundtrack, with the vocals largely performed by the acrobats themselves. The rhythms are so woven into the fabric of Urban that a moment performed in total silence – an uphill tightrope walk, from the stage floor at one end to the gods in the other – ranks among the show’s most powerful scenes.
A display of jaw-dropping rope skills, high above the theatre’s front rows, is another highlight and the only time any safety equipment is employed: it’s clear the harness is there to assuage the fears of those in the impact zone, rather than any concerns for the acrobat herself. As she swings above our upturned faces, tumbling and spinning, she keeps a running commentary in what sounds like beat-poetry Spanish.
For all Urban’s spectacle, I was acutely aware of a second layer of meaning I was missing out on due to my barely existent Spanish skills. Circolombia comes straight from the barrios of Cali, a city of 2.5 million in western Colombia, and Urban reflects both the kinetic energy and terrifying violence of a city riven by drug wars, homicide and poverty. When a character draws his hand across his throat, the international gangland symbol for “I will end you”, he’s not enacting a cool Hollywood move. You know it’s a gesture he’s seen before with his own eyes – and much worse.
Performed with just a few bare-bones props – tightropes, hoops, wires and springboards – and nothing in the way of fire-breathing, glitter-burst special effects, Circolombia is modern circus minus the Cirque du Soleil-style pretention. There’s a roughness around Urban’s edges (the computer graphics projected behind some of the scenes look like they were produced on a Commodore 64) that feels perfectly fitting in a portrayal of Colombian street life.
The opening night audience was largely a mix of Arts Festival regulars and Spanish-speaking expats, but I wished I’d seen more teenagers. This is youth circus, after all – none of the performers are aged over 23. Take the coolest kid in your life to Urban. They’ll love it.