Preconceptions can be a big challenge—for performers and audience alike. En Masse was arguably the most heavily-promoted of the 2018 Brisbane Festival events. A featured world premiere, an image of a Circa artiste looks out from the front cover of the main ‘BrisFest’ brochure: a female performer suspended from silk/ropes, dressed in red with one foot arched back behind her head. The website gallery also includes an image of performers suspended from ropes, and the program information categorises the performance as ‘circus, music, theatre.’ I suggest it would have been more accurate to categorise this as opera, music, acrobatics-meets-dance—and exclude any images of the non-existent ropes. But perhaps that is the challenge of preparing publicity material while a work is still in development?
The Circa performers are world-class. During the 80-minute show we were treated to an impressive display of strength, tumbling, and movement. The You Tube link from the Festival website demonstrates some of their exceptional strength, with impressive lifts (watch for the male performer who holds two female colleagues while standing on the shoulders of another male), jumps (I don’t think I’d have stood quite so still while colleagues was thrown, or jumped, over my head!) and balance (a woman standing on one leg on the head of a performer who is held on the shoulders of another colleague).
Robert Murray has a mellifluous tenor voice—perfect for songs from Schubert’s Winterreise (‘Winter Journey’) and Schwanengesang (‘Swan Song’). Murray’s performance was my personal highlight of the evening (unexpected for me as I don’t have opera at the top of my own list of art forms). The Schubert songs were selected by the director (Yaron Lifschitz) as the music for the ‘end of the world’ first half of the program—interspersed with electronic original music (Klara Lewis), which often prompted jerky movements from the Circa team. In addition, it is always nice to have two grand pianos together on any stage, with compelling work by Tamara-Anna Cislowska & Michael Kieran Harvey. But I must admit to preferring hearing the full orchestra when listening to Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring.
However, together the event was not what I expected from reading the festival brochure and buying my ticket. No anticipated veering between ‘anarchic energy and exquisite loss,’ and I did not come away with the impression of two different ‘visions of humanity.’ En Masse can be translated as a lot, together, or collectively. Separately, great performances. We certainly saw a lot. But all together—I’ll leave for you to decide, if you get to see it...
If I were to go again, at least I’d be better prepared.
Verdict: Individually impressive. All together? not for me.
Audience Notes: En Messe has 4 performances in the 2018 Brisbane Festival (19-21 September, 7;30pm). Tickets $40-$65 (plus booking fee). For more information on other Brisbane Festival events, check out the Brisbane Festival website.
Catherine Lawrence, perspectives
The reviewer attended the Wednesday 19th September 2018 world premiere performance (7:30pm).