Assembly George Square, Edinburgh Fringe Festival, 14th August 2013
The intimate Spiegeltent venue darkens to the sound of eerie strings, and a woman in a simple black dress enters the small central stage with a box of eggs. Which she proceeds to walk lightly over. This is Emma Serjeant – co-founder of Australian circus company Casus – and, as she is gently assisted along the rows of shells by Jesse Scott, we suspect that ‘Knee Deep’ will be a show about fragility.
The show has barely begun before Serjeant finds herself sitting delicately atop Scott’s head; for this superb display of skill to come so early, we suspect that there are momentous things to come – and are not disappointed.
This four-strong ensemble (also including Lachlan McAulay and Natano Fa’anana) excel in graceful acrobalance, lifting, jumping and climbing over each other with such lightness that the highly technical moves seem effortless. They take the theory of contact dance into new realms, finding novel platforms out of each others’ bodies to twist and turn about, and balance across.
If the show is about fragility, with its returning images of glass bottles, eggs and birds, it is also about an inner strength. The performances are infused with a sense of innocence, of an exploration into what these bodies the artists have found themselves in can do. The warmth, connection, and a sense of care are palpable between them – although I do feel that there is a lack of this same connection with us as audience.
Lit to highlight the angles and planes of the performers’ surprisingly human bodies, we see Serjeant take to her hand-balance poles with a remarkable ascent from a headstand. An aerial catcher’s strap is rigged from which the company create human stalactites, and a gritty country song underpins Fa’anana’s silks routine. Another egg returns, accompanied by Scott and a bottle of wine, but his acrobatic courtship routine (which draws winces of disbelief from the audience as he walks – and then jumps – across the stage on toes bent underneath him) is cut short by Serjeant’s human blockhead spectacle. As we see more of the performers, their personalities seem to become clearer, through a brief hula-hoop routine that almost ends in fisty-cuffs to the almost-aggresive body percussion of Fa’anana.
Slightly awkward cuts between music tracks are forgiven as we watch the acrobats throw each other around the stage and lattice together in a static trapeze display which incorporates the entire ensemble. And, as an ensemble, the performers are constantly interchanging their roles; they all fly, they all catch, they all base with equal ease.
The range of acts presented keeps us engaged and intrigued, with a humour that is as delicate and subtle as the magnificent displays of physical prowess and the unobtrusive rigging changes; and the production is at its most enjoyable when playful and unselfconscious.
If, after a disconcertingly abrupt ending, one departing audience member claims, ‘It just went on too long’, perhaps this is because (as critic Lyn Gardner comments on her blog) during the frenetic festival pace, the gentler shows often suffer short shrift. I rather side with the exiting crowd, who can’t stop muttering, ‘Amazing!’ and wander out to Nick Cave’s ‘The Ship Song’ with a pressing need to call my boyfriend and tell him I love him.