Beauty, Underbelly Circus Hub, Edinburgh Festival Fringe; 16th August 2016
It’s rare to find non-narrative contemporary circus work that develops a theme beyond the generic human condition. In Perhaps Hope, the debut production from Company Here And Now (previously titled Perhaps There Is Hope Yet), Vincent Van Berkel and Rockie Stone present a dramatic musing on climate change.
In their native Australia, the effects of climate change are currently felt more keenly than here in Europe, and the politics surrounding the issue are more prominent. Perhaps Hope takes a three-phase approach, working with cycles of material that take us from an attitude of mild disinterest, through attempts at salvation, to a struggle for survival after the point of no return. Danger and drama levels increase incrementally, almost so we don’t notice – until it’s too late, tellingly.
The excellently crafted sound design includes a collage of texts that’s integral to the otherwise wordless piece, interspersed with sounds of nature or The Battle Hymn of the Republic and the brilliant Laurie Anderson’s ‘O Superman‘. There’s a valuable lightness to the compilation of public service bulletins, wildlife programme narration, news reports and vocal climate change deniers, that gives us access into the potentially dry subject. Likewise, a pre-recorded introduction from the artists, played as they stand, holding each other’s hand in the spotlight, offers a chance for us to connect to their humanity before they launch into the first physical cycle (although telling us directly what the show is about may be a blunter instrument than necessary).
The initial round of acrobatic images is obtuse and it’s with hindsight, as we watch the creeping intensity that develops later, that we begin to see their sense. There are sounds of rain, glints of light on green glass bottles, edges of limbs and shining macintosh. There’s a curve of wood, sometimes a boat, sometimes a precipice, a more domestic version of the ‘banana’ teeterboard adaptation seen in Magmanus’ Attached. Stone loses herself dancing to the music on her headphones, contrasting with the slowness and formal lines of Van Berkel on his hand-balance canes.
Later, her dancing becomes more frenzied, bursts of her REM music choice more pronounced; Van Berkel adds tilt into his hips, his knees, his elbows. We watch the destabilisation of the ecological balance we knew through their bodies.
At the back of the stage is a kinetic sculpture of metal, designed by Callan Morgan, that evokes the pumpjack structures of the fossil fuel industry, or the wind turbines of the sustainable energy drive. Set into full spinning motion towards the end of the show, another interpretation of its movements appears as the outer attachments start to turn like human limbs, running, getting nowhere.
As Stone and Van Berkel propel us into a dark future, the concept of hyperobject narrative is introduced. The shifting of the earth’s climate – whether fueled by our species or otherwise – will not destroy the planet. It may just destroy its ability to sustain human life, and there may be nothing we can do about that. From a precarious perch atop the upended ark, Stone launches into the abyss but is, somehow, caught. In this way, the pair leave us with, perhaps, hope. Their show is a dextrous reflection on humanity’s future upon a planet whose climate is changing.