Academic journal article Australasian Drama Studies

Jacques Brel and Circus Performance: The Compiled Score as Discourse in the Space between by Circa

Academic journal article Australasian Drama Studies

Jacques Brel and Circus Performance: The Compiled Score as Discourse in the Space between by Circa

Article excerpt

As an art form, circus performance is inevitably accompanied by music, which, while prominent, remains subordinate to the physical performance. Within the 'traditional' circus, the 'blaring' 'brassy' sound of the wind band retains enduring cultural associations. A one-bar quotation of Julius Fucik's 'Entry of the Gladiators' is enough to signify 'circus' in the same way that John Williams' particular rhythmic use of a semitone in the film Jaws (1975) denotes 'shark'. The changing economics of the circus, coupled with the rise of recording technology, eventually led to the substitution of recorded music by many smaller circuses - a fact lamented by aficionados of the 'traditional' circus band. This lament frequently centres on the invariability of the recorded artifact, and therefore its unresponsiveness to a performance genre in which the risky physicality involved is inescapably marked by variable time. While some 'new circus' companies feature a live band, it is equally common to encounter a compiled soundtrack. This article considers how the use of music by the 'new circus' company Circa (Rock 'n' Roll Circus Ensemble) both contributes to spectatorial perception and provides a structural underpinning to the performance, focusing on the meanings contributed by the use of the songs of Jacques Brel in the production The Space Between.

Rock 'n' Roll Circus began in 1986 as a youth project by Street Arts Community Theatre (now Interchange), culminating in a production at the Rialto Theatre in Brisbane. At the conclusion of that project, a core group continued as an independent company. Through the following decade their work can be seen as a successful example of new circus, combining narrative and thematic elements with a political focus, producing shows dealing with AIDS education, human rights, body image and youth detention.1 The employment of Yaron Lifschitz as director in 1999 marked a break in their practice, and the company has since embarked on a period of restless exploration of circus form and aesthetics. This change in direction was acknowledged in 2004 by the adoption of a new name, Circa. By this stage, shows had been performed to the music of Mozart, Shostakovitch, Astor Piazzola and Arvo Part and it was clear that the company was anything but 'rock V roll'. The company now trades under the name Circa (Rock V Roll Circus Ensemble); I use 'Circa' here to refer to all the shows directed by Lifschitz, acknowledging that the early shows of his tenure were performed under the company's former name.

The development of Circa' s aesthetic - so far - can be divided into three periods, which are also marked by development in their use of music. Sonata for Ten Hands (2000), set to sonatas by Brahms and Schumann, and Figaro Variations (2002), set to the music of Mozart's opera - both performed with live musicians - are examples of a significant change in direction for the existing company. Naked (2003), which used music by Arvo Part, and A Love Supreme (2004), set to recordings by John Coltrane and Charles Mingus, can be considered bold 'middle period experimentation'. The Space Between (2004) and by the light of stars that are no longer (2007), both using an eclectic compiled score, can be ranked as mature works with an assured and confident aesthetic.

What Circa appears to be attempting to portray is nothing less than la condition humaine, an ambitious agenda which was articulated in the programme note for The Space Between:

How, when we are so often strangers to ourselves as well as to each other, can the actuality of circus be harnessed to tell of our needs, our vulnerabilities and our weaknesses? . . . We wanted to make a show that takes all the key elements of our work, the reimagining of circus, the pursuit of the limits of our humanity, the longing, absences and otherness of being alive and implants them back into the body of the performer. Not as characters or stories, not as crude physicalisations but as real experiences. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.