The invitation was simple: 'Join the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra and Circa for this fearless fusion of contemporary circus and Spanish baroque that will see you gripping your chair more than once.'
Frankly, Spanish Baroque has never had me gripping my chair. In fact the entire period (1600-1700) was marked by pessimism, disappointment, and loss of confidence. Gripping stuff indeed. So how would gravity defying, intensely physical acrobatic tricks sit next to music penned more than 400 years ago? And would one discipline make the other less potent?
In an unlikely collaboration (made possible only by the artistic vision and capabilities of the two companies involved), the Brandenburg/Circa co-pro is a bold experiment where physicality, syncopated rhythms, Catalan folk songs, period instruments and sublime vocals weave a rich fabric of sound, colour and movement.Image © Steven Godbee
The baroque pasticcio (as it is known), is a mash-up of different composers bundled into one story and was originally designed to give audiences the opportunity to experience a variety of styles. By adding physical theatre to the equation, the concept is taken one step further.
Members of the orchestra are all consummate players and ably filled the interludes with dazzling displays of musicality that gave full range to the sonic beauty of their instruments. And despite the relatively small staging area, the musicians and performers gave each other the creative and physical space required to show off their virtuosity.
Tommie Andersson delivered a haunting solo on the theorbo, (a lute like, plucked-string instrument with an extended neck), while young New Zealand soprano Natasha Wilson brought a crystal clear purity to the stage; her vocal debut almost overshadowed by the chair gripping, gasp-out-loud balancing act between Billie Wilson-Coffey and Rowan Heydon-White.Image © Steven Godbee
Italian baroque guitarist and featured guest Stefano Maiorana led a Fandango while the supremely athletic Connor Neall used the suspended ropes to good effect – his carefully choreographed moves culminating in a sudden and unexpected head-first, death-dive towards the stage floor.
Throughout the entire 90 minutes, the four men and four women of Circa worked relentlessly – executing feats of astonishing strength, agility and balance – each sequence drawing loud applause from the audience. And this is the rub. No matter how upbeat, melodic or achingly beautiful the music is – and it is all of these – the focus of the show remains on the circus performers.Image © Steven Godbee
This is not because the music is insignificant, or incidental to the show’s success – it is critically important – but at the end of the day the score just can’t compete with the spectacle of human bodies doing things we mortals can only ever dream of. To this end the orchestra are left to deliver the soundtrack to a show of great visual, emotional and aural beauty. And there is nothing wrong with that.
'Spanish Baroque' is a stunning collaboration and a wonderfully entertaining experience with more than a few ‘chair gripping’ moments. Highly recommended.