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IMPRESSIONS: CIRCA in Yaron Lifschitz's “HUMANS” at BAM

IMPRESSIONS: CIRCA in Yaron Lifschitz's “HUMANS” at BAM
Henning Rübsam

By Henning Rübsam
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Published on October 19, 2018
Photo: Max Gordon

BAM Howard Gilman Opera House

2018 BAM Next Wave Festival

October 3 at 7:30pm 

Created by Yaron Lifschitz with the Circa Ensemble

Costume design by Libby McDonnell

As I walk into the auditorium of the opera house at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, I do not know what to expect from the Australian group CIRCA, but I notice the stage is littered with some clothes, a black garment bag, and shoes. My mind trails off momentarily and recalls countless other shows at this venue in which the view of the stage floor was similarly obstructed. 

So when three men kick off their shoes and change into performance gear consisting of shorts and t-shirts, I am afraid I might get tired of all too common shtick. But then the space is cleared, and suddenly, the garment bag begins to move and contort. Is it the spirit of Alwin Nikolais that inhabits this fabric? Eventually, the ghost frees itself of the bag in wondrous ways to emerge as a woman. I am wide-awake with my jaw on the floor. There is no more yawning on my end but pure admiration for the skill and precision timing. 

Men in black t-shirt and nude shorts leap in the air. One dancer looks like he's flying like Superman. The other looks like he's in mid-backflip.
Circa's Daniel O'Brien & Keaton Hentoff-Killian in HUMANS; Photo: Max Gordon

What follows is a good hour of ten people hurling themselves across the floor and at each other. They build and then climb human pyramids, dissolving the seemingly sturdy structures of flesh and bones within a split-second. Jumps into nothingness end with a handless somersault; a couple of performers toss another one all the way across the opera house stage. I squirm in my seat, find myself on the edge of it, and feel the need to close my eyes a dozen times because the excitement causes me palpitations. Yet I cannot look away. 

Dancers stand in a straight line holding another dancer above their heads.
Circa's HUMANS; Photo: Max Gordon

The kinetic energy transmits, and I cannot remember when I got as intense a workout. Thankfully, some quieter sections with less acrobatic partnering allow for more tender moments. At one point, one performer collapses into herself, her repeated contortions signaling desolation. And there is humor: when one of the four women walks from the top of one performer’s head to the next and the next, she hesitates just long enough to decide not to burden her female colleague’s crown. Instead, she lunges for the head of the next gentleman. 

Two dancers roll on the floor while another jumps in the air parallel above one of them.
Circa's Keaton Hentoff-Killian, Caroline Baillon, and Nathan Boyle in HUMANS; Photo: Max Gordon

All of this is done without a net, and throughout the evening, I begin to understand that the safety support system is built by and within the community of these extraordinary athletes. They may be "Humans," but they seem to have no limits in their abilities. Three of them take to the air on hanging fabric strips, and just when you think that nothing is impossible, the performers try to lick their own elbows. After all the magic, it is a ridiculous yet poignant fact that, if we want to get our elbows licked, we need someone to do the licking for us. Just as supportive of each other as throughout the program, the humans of CIRCA do not fail to be there for one and all in this task. 

This circus of life is a satisfying and exhausting acrobatic balancing act that leaves me with a wide grin in awe of human daring and beauty.

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