Combining physical theatre and circus while observing the artistic integrity of the former and the parade of impressive physical achievement of the latter is a balancing act (pun intended) to which the pieces in this double bill had different approaches. The performances were of course full of awe-inspiring defiance of gravity and masterful acrobatics, but they both went further than that, incorporating playfulness, creativity and style.
The first, 'Knot' by Nikki & JD, had a narrative arc which explored the nature of relationships between two individuals; romantic and otherwise. It did this by allowing the audience to make heteronormative assumptions about the nature of the relationship between the two performers, appearing to conform to them, and then suddenly and comically undermining them.
The performance combined a lyrical, beautiful, impressive circus/dance hybrid with spoken interchanges between Nikki and JD; a combination which was fascinating and jarring. Already the aforementioned confrontation between the artistic nature of dance and the exhibitionist nature of circus left questions for the audience to grapple with in their appreciation of what they were watching. Should we ooh and ahh and applaud when they did something impressive (when nobody would expect to do that at the ballet)? Adding dialogue, which was funny, awkward and realist ("I hate going on dates with men after training with you because my hair smells like your armpits"), subverted the beauty of this confrontation, but as a result also gave the piece life and brought the performers considerably closer to the audience. Perhaps the pretence of spontaneity in the dialogue felt contrived but it did seem believable that its original conception came from a raw and honest place. Overall it was an enjoyable and thought-provoking piece which interrogated the nature of circus with aplomb.
After the interval came the longer piece, 'Gasp' by Company Circoncentrique. This one had a clear aesthetic design; the stage was set with a series of lamps (evoking early Pixar idents) and there was a sharp contrast between the performers in their loose-fitting beige clothes and the shiny black grand piano, later joined by a pianist in concert blacks, on stage right. This contrast accentuated the style of the performance itself; the playful, childish games of the two men were accompanied by bursts of expansive piano music.
In this piece, the sense of "adventure" which characterises the movement is enhanced by the whole design of the piece; the two performers explore their minimalist surroundings like children in a playground, using lighting and staging just as they use their acrobatic instruments. Except their rolling around happens to be dotted with highly skilled acrobatic tricks. The big achievement of the piece is that the performers can support a sense of play in their work while maintaining accuracy; there were moments of impeccable synchronicity of movement, and the two men exhibited their individual specialisms with accomplishment. Maxime Pythoud's Cyr wheel work (spinning like a starfish in a large aluminium ring) was wildly majestic and Alessandro Maida's use of the variously sized balls was impressive; at one point he span on a giant ball like a dancer in a music box and the elegance of it brought a lump to my throat. It was beautiful. But they offer more than all this; the humour which comes from their infantile exploration is joyous and pure; the children in the audience erupted with glorious cackles of glee. Overall, the piece is a credit to them both individually and as a pair; they clearly have a strong creative bond and it shines through the work.
In sum, this double bill provided entertainment, comedy and beauty and I would recommend it, unexpectedly, for children of all ages. In fact I believe its ultimate appeal is indeed that it could provide entertainment to anyone; from the scrupulous critic to the distractible hedonist.