Assembly Hall, Edinburgh Festival Fringe; 9th August 2015
Even without the projected dictionary definitions that start the show, it’s understood that the 360 of the title is all about revolutions of a circular sense; within a very short while, it’s also clear that this Australian show revolutionises the traditional circus form for a youth culture of today, with a total commitment to transforming urban skills into thrilling acts of entertainment.
The show is directed by Gene Peterson, who also provides live drumming throughout, as well as the chap-hop style health and safety intro that eases us into the hip-hop drive powering the production. Peterson is a world renowned percussionist, and founded Onyx Productions in 2011 to produce his own touring work. 360 Allstars was initially created in 2013, and I am astounded at how such a relative newcomer has created such an exceptional show in the genre.
The other artists are also champions in their fields, their accolades prominently displayed on the screens that base the musician’s podiums and cover the back wall in style that evokes the ‘character select’ feature of computer games. Hiphop is known for its love of branding and self-promotion, and 360 Allstars embraces this phenomenon.
The traditional ringmaster or compere role is replaced by rap artist master of ceremonies, Sam Perry, who live loops a soundtrack of Peterson’s beats and his own vocal percussion throughout, spitting lyrical introductions to each act. A wise use of the projection screens to highlight key words from the fast moving speech helps the visual types (like me!) to keep track of what’s going on.
First up is twice World Champion BMX flatlander Péter Söre, who brings a refreshing shake-up to the classic trick cycling. Finishes aren’t always clean, but energy, spirit and novelty recompense for that.
Next, the ‘character select’ idea is developed further into B-Boys Leerok and Kareem’s dance off, complete with special moves. Playing off their different strengths, will it be Kareem’s spinning powers that win him the round, or Leerok’s more acrobatic flare and speed? I won’t deny, there is a certain thrill at being a thirty-something middle-class white woman sat at a hip-hop dance off, especially as the audience are encouraged to join the energy and call along, in the way that sports fans do. The vibrancy amongst us is palpable.
Perry is given the opportunity to demonsplain his techniques to make it clear that all the sound we hear today is live. (OK, ‘demonsplain may not be an actual word yet but, with the growing trend for circus artists to talk about their process as part of the performance, it should be.) The video screens put him into MTV mode as the images and sounds build together, from unexpected notes of choral worship, upto and into complex energised beats.
The similarity between the giant red button, which appears on the back screen next, and a clown’s red nose is not lost on me. Nor is the fact that BasketballMan (Rashaun Daniels) is a natural clown as well as a
juggler basketball freestyler. He hypes the crowd, makes us laugh, and even gets a kid from the front row involved as he is convinced time and time again to press the button that releases the basketballs until he is manipulating five at once.
The Cyr wheel is up next, itself a circus discipline less than 20 years old, performed by Rhys Miller. He’s a big guy, and looms even larger when he straightens into his wheel, demonstrating a good variety of rotatory techniques within a mystical blue and purple vibe.
Peterson has his moment in the 21st Century spotlight next, as a live headcam feeds his drumming action onto the big screen, giving the slightly vertiginous sense of a movement simulator ride, and a thrilling sense of being in that movement. A consummate performer, Peterson still finds moments to connect with us directly as well as through the camera.
Now each Allstar has had his chance to shine (yes, this is a very testosterone heavy show, but could equally feature women in another line-up), they come together in an ensemble routine that reintroduces and then recombines their various disciplines. Miller echoes the BMX with a unicycle, and Leerok’s miniature Cyr is an amusing treat.
360 Allstars zings with energy and street spirit, and is a top quality show of unusual skills for this context. What’s more, they credit all their artists really clearly, in a well thought-through manner, which makes the reviewer in me very happy. One to catch.