Brighton Festival 2018
Fauna is a multidisciplinary new circus show that has entwined elements of dance, live music, high level acrobatics and physical theatre in a new and innovative way. The show is an engaging exploration of human movement and inclinations through animal behaviour. It’s suitable for people of all ages.
The show is performed by Fauna (the name of both the company and their first show) made up of five acrobats – Daniel Cave-Walker (UK), Enni-Maria Lymi (Finland), Matt Pasquet (UK), Rhiannon Cave-Walker (Australia) and Imogen Huzel (UK) who met at DOCH, the circus and dance school in Stockholm, Sweden and musician/composer Geordie Little (Australia). The company formed in 2016 when it was offered an Arts Council England research grant to develop and present part of a show at the Glastonbury Festival of Perfoming Arts. Since then it has gone on to win numerous awards, including Best Circus awards at both the Edinburgh and Adelaide Fringe Festivals 2017. The company is currently on a world tour.
Fauna is a fascinating physical exploration of primal behaviour. It starts in darkness, with the sound of birdsong, which transitions into solo flamenco acoustic guitar as the acrobats come onto the stage. They move as a flock – in synch and then, after a flurry of rearrangement, line up as individuals, jostling, observing, and twitching to the soundtrack of gobbledygook. Immediately, you get a sense of the very human relationships between them: attraction, irritation, and repulsion.
And so the scene was set for a magical journey that took us into a world where human and animal, light and dark, inclusion and exclusion, gentleness and aggression blended seamlessly together. It was like watching a kaleidoscopic David Attenborough documentary merged with scenes from a soap, all told through physical movement and music… but so much better than that sounds. An hour later, when the acrobats lined up again at the end of the show, there was a sense that a subtle, but important transformation had occurred. It doesn’t even matter what that was, just that it had happened and there had been some sort of resolution.
The show has a simple narrative – the development of the very human, sweet, joyful, funny, obsessive, sad, uncomfortable, co-dependent and lonely relationships between different pairs and individuals. And it has a clear structure, marked by changes in performers, pace, rhythm, music and mood, all sandwiched by the flocking and line up of the artists at the beginning and end. This ensures that the show hangs together as a very coherent whole; it’s most definitely not just a set of tricks and balances.
But what a set of tricks and balances! Trapeze, hand-to-hand, acro-balance, tumbling, hand-balancing on canes…. The acrobats spent a nearly uncomfortable amount of time upside down – in handstands, headstands and heel hangs on the trapeze. They also performed a dizzying number of daring deeds that had the audience gasping and applauding.
Enni Maria Lymi’s gawky character was expressed through incredible physical convolutions on the trapeze. Daniel and Rhiannon Cave-Walker attracted and repelled each other with a series of springs, jumps, throws and catches, which were full of ease and fluidity. Matt Pasquet, the outlier, had a litheness to his acro-movement combined with the strength to hold up a human tower, which were mesmerising. Imogen Huzel, almost unnervingly birdlike, was the mistress of the beautifully extended hand balance.
But the show was about much more than dramatic tricks, and had slower, gentler sequences of extreme beauty and elegant choreography. And what really pulled the performance into another league was the company’s brilliant characterisation and acting/clowning skills – the acrobats’ faces and small gestures were just as expressive as their physical prowess.
Turning to the costumes and scenery, things were kept spare and simple: the minimum needed to showcase the movement and relationships between the characters. There was a static trapeze centre stage and balancing canes in a corner at the back, live music in the other corner and a crash mat for one scene. Costumes were everyday wear, supplemented by a feather boa.
Turning to the soundtrack, which was performed lived on stage by Geordie Little – a brave man to be seated amidst all that movement! It was a stirring and complex mix of bird song, acoustic flamenco guitar, looped beats, reverb, percussion and silence, and, in its musical and emotional breadth and structure, was absolutely integral to the performance.
Finally, what stood out for me most about this piece was the sheer joy of the acrobats in their performance and in the topic they were exploring. It was infectious and exhilarating and has left me yearning to hang upside down, do somersaults and dance with everyone and eveything I meet.