Cirkus Cirkör's Limits
Cirkus Cirkör set out to explore the limits of humanity and the human body last Wednesday night at the Kennedy Center through a mix of dance, theater, and various circus arts (collectively termed “contemporary circus”) in their show Limits. Proclaimed “the most famous company to arise in Scandinavia,” when I read that Cirkus Cirkör had been performing since 1995 (with its own school started in 1997), I was expecting a high caliber performance. While the overall message of the show was moving -- focusing on Europe’s duties to take in refugees and displaced people -- the performances were less so. While they pushed their bodies to their personal limits, as they fell out of handstands and missed landings, they weren’t exploring the limits that I had seen elsewhere.
The show began with a dancer standing against a flowy ocean backdrop. She flew through the air as a voiceover narrated a refugee’s attempt to cross the ocean to find a better life in Europe. During this number, the audience could see the counterbalancing between the rigging and performer “floating” in the water. As she descended, her partner would scale the rigging along the side of the frame to lower her down. It was interesting to see this part of circus, which is normally disguised so as to “maintain the illusion.”
The sets were sort of industrial, and the breakdown of various equipment was part of the show. The audience watched as techno rave music thumped and trampolines, teeter totters, and other rigging were assembled or deconstructed. These minimalist sets were integral to the show. A large metal grate was used to create a fence between two groups as they repeatedly climbed back and forth. In another vignette, a huge raised platform was tilted and the dancers continued to run and jump, tumble and flip up and down the square as if at a skatepark. Eventually the whole square lifted into the air, with one woman on top while a man monkey-bared across the bottom.
Each performer had a different speciality, from juggling to acrobatics to putting together a Rubix cube while blindfolded. The two women, Sarah Lett and Saara Ahola, stole the show with their mesmerizing performances on a Cyr wheel, trapeze, silks, and aerial hammock. If you picture Leonardo Da Vinci’s drawing of the anatomical man, you’ll have a good image in your head of a Cyr wheel- it’s a giant metal hoop. As Lett, held onto the hoop, she whipped her leg around to build its momentum, pausing to make stag shapes while floating in the middle of the hoop or to pose in a vertical split.
The show ended with a group number, as Ahola flew through the air suspended inside a giant plastic bag, like a goldfish won at a country fair. She danced inside the bag before being released by Lett, who joined her on a set of red silks and aerial hammock combined as one apparatus. The two women soared together, the hammock supporting Lett’s lower back and waist as the dipped into a deep backbend, hands lifting Ahola midair.
I couldn’t help feel that Limits was still a work in progress, despite being in their repertoire since 2015. In any show, there is the possibility that a performer falls or doesn’t quite execute their move in the way they hoped, but having multiple instances made it feel like they were too ambitious with their choreography. Working in this same area in New York spoiled me. Being friends with some of the best circus artists in the world allowed me to think that their abilities were the standard. When you are living in NYC, even the best dancers are hustling their butts off attempting to make ends meet, so it feels like you’re all still trying to “make it.” Watching Limits made me miss my NYC circus and pole friends even more, and I felt like anyone of them could have been thrown into this performance on a day’s notice.