It may seem a little strange — an entire show built around a letter of the alphabet. But for the innovative Australian contemporary circus troupe Circa, the letter S proved the ideal starting point for a production that the company calls “sinuous, seductive, sophisticated, sensual, and savage.” Known for using the extreme physicality of modern circus arts to create shows of stirring emotional impact, Circa brings “S” to the Boch Center Shubert Theatre March 2-4, its third Celebrity Series engagement.
“Within the crowded world of contemporary circus, Circa is truly in a league of its own,” says Celebrity Series artistic programmer Amy Lam. Ella Baff, who presented Circa during her tenure as Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival artistic director, concurs, calls the Brisbane-based company “breakthrough artists in their field.”
Since its founding in 2004, Circa has performed at leading festivals and venues in 39 countries across six continents. Along the way, the company has pioneered new ideas about how bodies can bend and balance, soaring through the air one moment, entwining into vivid sculptural shapes in constant motion the next. Circa has helped create a new acrobatic vocabulary, though that hasn’t been the company’s intention. “It’s much more the case of making work that’s authentic and powerful,” says Yaron Lifschitz, Circa’s artistic director, Skyping recently from Brisbane. “Inevitably we’ve made discoveries that have entered the lexicon of contemporary circus, but we’re not trying to create a new style of circus. You have to start with the people in the room and try to make something that doesn’t end your career or dignity.”
Mission accomplished. The 85-minute “S” for seven performers won the Helpmann Award — Australia’s equivalent of a Tony Award — for best visual or physical theater production after its premiere in 2012. Fluid in its movement aesthetic and dance-like transitions, “S” is a kind of acrobatic ballet showcasing not only the multi-disciplinary performers’ strength, agility, and control, but also the emotional power of interactions that push the limits of physical virtuosity. Lam calls it “a visually stunning production that can make your jaw drop and your heart ache at the same time.”
Lifschitz says making work that moves audiences is one of the company’s hallmarks. “I think there’s a kind of fierce humanity that runs through Circa’s work.”
With “S” it began with ruminations on the 19th letter of the alphabet. “I was interested in the number of different things that all became this strange letter,” Lifschitz says. “I like the idea of ‘S’ being the way we make plurals, the idea of many. I like the shape, I like its sound, its symmetry — that’s very big in the show. I like the idea of a line meeting a point and kind of creating a curve. It started from there.”
The work unfolds primarily to excerpts from the Kronos Quartet recording “Uniko,” with Kimmo Pohjonen and Samuli Kosminen, and is performed with a spare, minimalist aesthetic Lifschitz calls “a mixture of necessity and taste.” He explains, “I come to the circus to watch extraordinary people do amazing things. [With Circa] the stage is never empty, there’s always a body on it, and that body brings a whole world of architecture and relationships, flavors, energies, colors, and those things for me are endlessly fascinating. I rarely want a set or fancy costumes.”
What he does want is performers who are not only tremendously skilled but possess intriguing personalities. “I like to work with introverts that have secrets and smoldering intensity, some unresolved fire. They have to be compellingly watchable and be able to dig deep with great authenticity. I’ve never thought of the stage as a place you come to pretend to be something other than what you are. I’m not an illusionist. I like the organic, physical side of theater.”
Lam is struck by Lifschitz’s “boundless creativity and artistic sensibility,” as well as his prolific output. “He has the amazing talent and ability to seamlessly blend acrobatic arts, music, contemporary dance, physical theater, even opera, into one new, unique artistic language that is thrilling and moving at the same time,” she says.
Some Circa members have said “S” is their favorite show to perform. However, Lifschitz says it is especially challenging, requiring very high levels of skill and great formal discipline. “There are these big 15-minute set pieces, and a degree of great freedom, improvisation, and play. They all have to work together.”
But his expectations for the viewer are simple. “I want audiences to feel things they’ve never felt before and see things they’ve never seen before.”
Presented by Celebrity Series of Boston. At Boch Center Shubert Theatre, March 2-4. Tickets: $60-$75, 617-482-6661, www.celebrityseries.orgKaren Campbell can be reached at email@example.com.