Review: YOAH @ Adelaide Fringe 2024

'YOAH' - Image © Kara White
Kara is a classically-trained freelance cellist become arts critic. She loves chatting with artists from all walks of life, watching shows and performing in them, and weaving words and experiences into stories for scenestr. She and her partner teach a bunch of inspired young kids from their Adelaide home studio and she is ‘mumma’ to some special little girls.

Japanese contemporary circus company, CIRQUEWORK, brings a majestic production of Japanese circus, blended beautifully with mystical storytelling with the Australian premiere of 'YOAH’.

The death-defying circus performances alongside the alluring visuals and all-original electronic soundtrack alone, are a spectacle of wonder, but it is the narrative which really seduced the senses and pushed this show beyond what meets the eye.

The show stars Tsumugi Masui as Yoah in what appears to be a struggle, tanged up in an aerial display in the opening act. Delicate fragility in such beauty, a fear of the unknown with impending change as she encounters, one by one, the characters of the story as they’re introduced. It is the perfect blend of the darkness and light, the Inyo, where two energies co-exist together yet separate into positive and negative forces.

Yusaku Mochizuki, the director of the show, performs a routine with the diabolo. A circus toy originating from China comparable to the yo-yo. In earlier times, referred to as 'the devil between two sticks'. It was the way that the toy presented itself which had me pondering the elements of Kiko (working with energy) along with the presence of possible Shintoism in the storyline. The diabolo not only represented a playful struggle coming to life through movement with the music and visuals on the back screen, moving with the object in syncopation like a dream, but I saw the two ends of the cup as ‘chalices’ which became more apparent as the show progressed.

Image © Kara White

As each character was introduced, another card was drawn in the make-up. Prior to watching a spine-tingling trapeze display from Anthony Weiss who came onto the stage after the opening scene with a presence akin to that of a phantom or flying bat, the energy had yet again changed with a mischievous, kindred Joker-like persona in the introduction of Tomohiro Morita. He is one of Japan’s leading juggling specialists, placing balls on the heads of the crowd followed by a whimsical routine involving not just balls but crystals.

The soundtrack blended Japanese drumming with electronic synths, floating in and out of a rhythm and using binaural tuning systems to promote dream-like states of consciousness. The sounds of nature were combined in the composition, yet, I felt myself hanging for that little bit of nature in the silkiness of the softer parts in what was coming through as midi strings with no breath. The composition itself was faultless and worked perfectly in sync with the story, however, introducing live musicians on to the soundtrack to blend with the electronic would take it that little bit further. I’d personally love to hear the sounds of a Japanese kokyū or even Chinese erhu for a sound where the bow isn’t separated from between the strings. Those instruments above western strings would have an authentic feel which works with the show.

The young girl, Yoah, comes in and out of the story, still in a state of struggle, fighting whatever she is experiencing, afraid to embrace it. What we witness is almost seemingly sacrificial as a white sheet suppresses her as if she were under a spell. The characters are masked, a darkness in those scenes which could either be interpreted as the fear of the unknown or something more sinister in the moment.

Image © Kara White

One final character is introduced in Yuya Takatori, who builds a stack of chairs, balancing on each one as the tower rises higher. Tumi Ishi, is a Japanese game curated similar to that of rock balancing or Ishi-hana, meaning ‘stone flower’. Don’t stack, but stand. It is the art of balance through the elements, working with irregular formations and creating stillness in the process. As Takatori reached peak height, the chairs were carefully thrown down and caught, and at the end of this process, Yoah was presented with what looked like an orb.

We saw a white sheet as the orbs multiplied, and what could be related to Carl Jung’s ‘Shadow Work’. Facing the inner-demons, she took the ‘cup’ (diabolo) and drank from it, joining the dark forces which once scared her.

I walked away from the show feeling peace. It grabs a hold of something inside of you and embraces every emotion seen in the character, Yoah. My two young girls thanked the performers afterward and they were so humble and warm. I really hope this one returns.

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