La TOHU, Montréal Complètement Cirque; 16th July 2016
Knee Deep was the first show created by the artistically adventurous Casus. It premiered in 2012, since which time the raw performance has matured during a number of international tours and gained serious recognition, including winning the award for Best Circus & Physical Theatre at Adelaide Fringe.
At this showing, the cast consists of co-founders Natano Fa’anana, Jesse Scott, and Lachlan MacAulay, along with Kali Retallack. The company has a noticeable lineage of performers who’ve previously worked with Circa, another Australian company known for its powerful and emotional flavor. After years of polish, what works so well with Knee Deep is the intimate feel the cast create, seeming both physically connected and vested in one another on a cellular level, constantly touching and holding.
The stage is set with a close up of Retallack’s feet walking precariously atop a full carton of eggs, projected live onto the back wall. As she completes the feat, the focus is so intent that the audience are almost leaning towards the stage. As the show moves forward, themes of fragility emerge with the ever present egg used as a prop.
The cast grows from one to two then four, with acrobatic group balances and tosses moving fluidly from partner to partner. One performer stands on another’s face, yet the group dynamic is playful, focused on slow careful movements to physically and metaphorically help each other through risky situations. At one point, the egg is dropped from a three high human tower, which is mirrored at the ending of the show when Retallack is dropped by Scott, balancing on his head on a trapeze, to be caught by the rest of the group.
The solo and group acts flow together with much tossing of people in between. Fa’anana holding up the entire group of acrobats whilst hanging from a sling; head balancing (still using the egg to play with fragility); Retallack fitting surprisingly through a tiny ring; a group of male hula-hoopers; another close-up projection of delicate origami folding and drawing of a swan; a haka-like dance by Fa’anana that moves seamlessly into more breathtaking acrobatics; bottle walking, and acrobats balancing atop each other on a stack of eggs, bottles and a chair – including an impressive moment in which one balances on another’s head in a crocodile pose.
The last act is a group trapeze sequence that features exchanges between the flyer and the base with every dynamic movement. Ending with a dramatic fall and catch, Knee Deep shows a group dynamic that is sensitive to each individual’s struggle and triumph. Casus have created what they sought: a show that uses vulnerability to stretch physical and emotional limits.