Lighthouse, Poole; 31st March 2016
The latest Ockham’s Razor adventure is a playfully elegant cell of chiming poles and human souls. Under direction from Tina Koch and Charlotte Mooney, two of the company’s co-founders, the team have evolved another unique set of props to add to their portfolio. Chinese pole, Russian bar, tightwire, trapeze and teeterboard are all reinvented in Tipping Point through the creative use of 6 long, specially designed poles. Or rather, the hung, spun, lifted and swung poles become sites where technique usually seen on more traditional circus equipment can come into play.
Play is key to the world of the versatile Tipping Point acrobats. Nich Galzin, Emily Nicholl, Telma Pinto, Steve Ryan and co-founder Alex Harvey challenge and tease each other as much as they support and guide, lending light and shade – and emotional connection – to their impressive physical feats.
An elevated X of truss beams is rigged from four vertical towers that create the corners of the cube-like playing space, bordered by tiered rows of audience on each side. Gentle puffs of mist pre-empt the clouds of chalk dust that will be used later to signal shifts in focus between the performers and their personal games around the structured obstacles. The artists enter the space, carrying two of the long poles with them, and proceed to mark out a protective ring of salt between our place of safety and their arena. Symbolic as it is, it’s a welcome barrier as Harvey begins to whirl one heavy metal pole around and around, mere inches from spinning out into our faces, summoning the spirit of potential peril that accompanies us throughout the production.
Underlying the flinging, clinging, balancing and swinging is a neoclassical soundtrack composed by Adem Ilhan and Quinta, incorporating dramatic strings, music-box piano, and sounds that seem to have been lifted from the work itself – whooshing air, clanging metal, creaking ropes.
Ockham’s Razor devise their work in a way that allows the realities of their physical experimentation to inform the conceptual content, as well as the development of the specific equipment. What emerges is a wholly integrated work that contains its own logic. Rather than a constraining narrative, the piece reveals elements of human nature and existence: fear, team spirit, isolation and forces that go on without us. Bauke Lievens wrote in her Open Letter To The Circus that a shift in societal perspective has seen circus work move from humans explicitly exerting control over other objects towards objects explicitly exerting control over humans. Tipping Point seems to have found the pivot between the two where we grapple out our everyday lives, and has brought that delicate balance into theatrical focus.
I saw the show with a group of Young Reviewers at Lighthouse arts centre in Poole, who are taking part in a season of workshops with a variety of critics. Each seminar session is followed by a show visit, and personal feedback on the reviews produced afterwards. The need for more circus-savvy critics in the business hasn’t gone away, and it’s great to be able to introduce new writers to the sector at an early stage.
For me personally, it’s a welcome thrill to be able to engage with other thoughtful voices on the subject instead of bouncing around by in an echo chamber. Here are some of the reviews they came up with…
Ockham’s Razor’s Tipping Point demonstrates the limitless artistic and physical potential of the human mind and body. The magnitude of the awe-inspiring use of playful acrobalance and stunts created by the performers is astounding. This is a mesmerising show, and the combination of each performer’s prowess and the imaginative production left me open-mouthed and wanting the spectacle to never end.
The show’s narrative is up to the audience to deliberate, but our five performers – Alex Harvey, Nich Galzin, Emily Nicholl, Telma Pinto, and Steve Ryan – exist in a strange, empty space, and make it into their playground using several poles and their own equivalent of a circus cradle. There are motifs of passing time, exceeding boundaries and taking chances, emphasised by the ring of salt acting as the barrier between their world and ours. The imaginative use of the poles is wondrous, with each performer playing their own “game” with the props. Steve’s need to reach the top of one pole, Telma’s constant need to move with them, and Emily playing the role of an underdog, facing the challenge to follow in the footsteps of her friends.
The music, composed by Adem Ilhan and Quinta, is both haunting and mystical, and the use of lighting and minor smoke effects add to the enchantment of the performance. There is a state of tenseness and thrill in the act, balanced by humour and poignant moments, and there is a sense of dizziness following the team flying about, and dread that someone will fall. In every moment, the performers are fighting their own bodies to achieve their bedazzling acrobatics – and they pull it off flawlessly.
By Mark Russell
A witches’ coven of mischief and ritual. UK circus at its reinvented finest.
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Sorcery is in the air at Lighthouse Poole. The scent of the mist seeping out of the concert hall doors whiffs mysteriously. Chiming, reverberating sounds pulsate through my chair, as I stare upwards at the high, shadowy apparatus that will soon be scaled.
My feet are upon the boards of the stage, the rest of the audience on a level in the round, a casual nod to traditional Big Top layout.
The performers look around the assembly as they enter, seeking out kindred spirits. I feel the eyes of one briefly catch mine. Then, the magic really begins as the chalk circle is drawn (almost grazing my toes), and the chalk is shared between hands, starry fistfuls of it hanging in the darkening air.
Throughout Tipping Point, hanging metal poles enable the performers to take their fellows’ lives into their own hands. Initially, the central pole is set to swing in a wide arc, and I cringe in delight as I feel the wind from it whip my face …. I have the sudden illusion that it will knock me sideways as it whizzes out of the shadows.
Every single element of the performance is polished; from the frenchified blue denim coloured costumes (each one subtly different) by the talented Tina Bicat, to the deceptively exact, sometimes balletic, choreography from Tina Koch and Charlotte Mooney.
Telma Pinto knowingly works the audience with proud eyes and practiced movements. She bewitches me when she is between Alex Harvey and Nich Galzin; bodily thrown onto one of the swinging poles, she grins as she catches it with arms, legs and core in one perfect contortion.
Emily Nicholl impishly inhabits the spaces, bringing a lump to the throat in the closing sequences where Harvey, suspended, catches her, lifts her into the air high above our heads. Chemistry fizzes as their eyes lock and their bodies arc and spin. Cleverly positioned lighting design means that their shadows flicker up around the walls of the venue.
In a myriad of clever ways, from sound to the proximity of the layout, the audience shares the force of the magical danger with the rest of Ockham’s Razor. It is flattering and exciting in its inclusion.
The metallic, yet euphonious soundtrack by Adem Ilham and Quinta (who has previously worked with Bat for Lashes and Radiohead) is faultlessly looped, and perfectly matches the show’s landscape and moods. It is produced from a sphere of surround sound, meaning that the structure itself appears to ring out.
Ultimately, all parts of Tipping Point feel flawlessly conjoined within the chalk circle, an eternal mandala of energy. The members of Ockham’s Razor show that energy and magic can be mastered and manifested into a reality. Magic is then in fact a mastery of self, an achievement of harmony. I just wish I’d had more like eight pairs of eyes to capture all of the enchantment.
By Verity Hesketh
Contemporary circus is a new term for art that is creating fresh revolutionary performances to change the way circus is portrayed.
Ockham’s Razor is an aerial theatre company. They combine circus with visual arts to create something completely different from your normal stereotypical circus experience.
Entering the room, I feel as if the performance has already started, a mistiness of cloud clings to the air of the room, meaning the atmosphere, right from the beginning, is one of interest and curiosity.
It begins with the handing round of chalk, from Telma Pinto, to each artiste; this would signal the transition to a different ‘story’, that made up the production. This was accompanied by the use of salt to create a circle, at the beginning, around the dancers. Salt was used again, at the end of the production, to create a magnificent spiraling shell like trail on the floor. I think that unique things like this, used by the company, made this performance magical and transported the viewer from this world into a world of exhilaration, adrenaline and exploration.
The subtle use of dusty blue, on baggy knee-high shorts and simple grey shirts contrasted well with Phil Supple’s use of various coloured lighting. The lighting reflected and conveyed the mood of the piece. Supple worked closely with composers, Adem Ilhan and Quinta, who created contrasting types of contemporary beats, which added emotion to the performers movements and motions. This beats created a modern touch. They used the music to produce smooth transitions, such as a sense of loneliness (created by a gripping slow tempo and emphasis on certain notes) to an atmosphere of warmth and play (created using a quick tempo). I think without either of these aspects the emotional grip that Ockham’s Razor had over the audience would have been lost.
Throughout the entire performance they used poles that suspended from a great open cube-like structure which looked over the stage. The innovative way they constructed and rigged the great white poles made this performance unique to other contemporary circus theatre groups. Furthermore, each section played on different emotions – trust, dependence and vulnerability – that the audience could relate to. For example, when Nich Galzin entered the stage he performed with just one pole, thus making the entire atmosphere change in the room. It was like the pole was another person, he was very open with his emotions through the use of his body. He was clearly strong, but he could crumple his body up like a piece of paper.
In the production, they used a variety of risks, which made it more interesting and unique than simply the normal expected risk of: “they could die if they fell from that height”. They manipulated the viewer’s emotions to play on the risks of ‘if this went wrong, how it would effect each character, emotionally’. However, this meant that they had to continue to engage with the audience throughout the entire performance.
“I was compelled to go and join him, i felt such a part of his thoughts and emotions” – I think this sums up my opinion of Ockham’s Razor.
By Tammy Hesketh