MSO and Circus Oz
REVIEWER: Cameron Woodhead
Classical musicians and acrobats are intriguing bedfellows, and you could argue the synergy between them has been at the forefront of contemporary circus over the past decade.
Audiences have been treated to virtuosic displays from both disciplines in encounters that have ranged from powerfully intimate chamber works – Circa’s Opus from 2013, which saw a Shostakovich quartet cycle (performed by French string quartet Quatuor Debussy) met mid-air by acrobatics composed on a visceral human scale – to grand encounters between circus companies and symphony orchestras.
With Tutti, Circus Oz and the MSO have joined forces to create a spectacular fusion of classical concert and circus that sparks a playful dialogue between art forms, and consistently entertains.
One motif sees orchestra and acrobats soar together. There’s something soul-stirring about witnessing the ethereal beauty and grace of a trapeze routine as a diaphanous fantasia on strings is played below, and the strength of the aerialists twins effortlessly with the more romantic aspect of the music program.
Such glorious highs are punctuated by comical nosedives. Tutti is held together by the kind of irreverent clowning in a major key Circus Oz excels at, and there are some terrific moments. In one hilarious sequence, a string quartet plays Sia’s Chandelier while a clown struggles mightily with a double bass in the air above them.
There are cannonballs launched at the conductor’s bum as the orchestra flies through Rimsky-Korsakov’s Flight of the Bumblebee, and an amusing costume change performed with one acrobat standing on another’s head.
The clowning never lasts long, always dissolving into driving choreography, tumbling and floor routines. Ensemble acrobatics might be Circus Oz’s strongest suit, and it’s captivating here, reminding you of all the ways contemporary circus is enriched by contemporary dance.
Dynamically attuned to an eclectic mix of composers – including Elena Kats-Chernin, Stravinsky, and notably Max Richter, whose spirited recomposition of Vivaldi is one of the highlights – is a range of acts: an astonishing unicycle duo, brilliantly co-ordinated group juggling displays, cute hoop and pole routines, elegant acrobalance.
And the show ends with a fitting climax where everyone gets a chance to let their hair down. Just to show they really are eclectic, we get the MSO busting into AC/DC’s Thunderstruck, as rambunctious group trapeze unfolds on high.
That proved a finale so rousing even conductor Richard Northey got in on the act, doing an improvised commando-roll over gym mats at curtain call.
Too late for a career change, of course (and Northey conducts this concert with far too nimble a hand to suggest one) but I wonder if he was hamstrung into a few mistimed moments, or slight disjunctions between vision and sound, by having his back to the acrobats. With opera, the conductor can see the performers, after all, and perhaps this kind of hybrid show would optimally have the same.
You won’t lose a jot of enjoyment, though – Tutti twines musical mastery and uncanny physical prowess into something spectacular and special.