La Syncope du 7

Collectif AOC
BITE:03 at the Barbican

OK! So, I've said it all before. The French really are very, very good at that intermingling of movement, language and circus arts referred to as Circus Performance. However, tonight's performance of La Syncope du 7 was one of the finest and most exhilarating examples of the genre I've been privileged to experience. Scintillating circus skills and breathtaking dare-devilry, blended together seamlessly through a fluid and innovative choreography, and varied in tone and mood by the remarkable music/sound score of Olivier Teneur and Bertrand Landhauser, had the full house in the Barbican Theatre gasping, wowing and oh-my-god-ing from beginning to the grand finale.

As the programme notes: 'Energy, emotion and movement are more important than cold technique.' This is the essence of Circus Performance at its best. There was a constant interchange of macho posturing, feminine eroticism and spiritual androgyny. At the beginning a white feather-winged angel flew above the stage on a trapeze while a female, scantily clad in purple crawled animal-like below reaching upwards to grasp the floating sprite. When they linked an aerial dance of corporeality meeting the spirit took place as they swung swiftly through space in a unity that made one want to feel the wholeness of human existence. There were acrobatic dances of circling and menacing masculinity that make West Side Story look like Swan Lake. And the wally in the jeans and T-shirt, the clown, was really just pretending his physical ineptitude: he was as powerful and dexterous in movement as his fellow performers.

While the prologue of Shakespeare's Henry V begs his audience to 'piece out our imperfections in your minds' and imagine the battle of Agincourt, in La Syncope du 7 two well-met warriors needed no imagination on our part as they vied with each other for supremacy in battle through acrobatics on the trampoline: they were perfection.

A simple set of metal construction on three levels, with a Perspex wall, allowing a view of the second level, and fronted by a trampoline was transformed from mere functionality into an integral part of the aesthetics by the lighting. The Perspex wall provided one of the highlights of excitement as performers springing on their backs from the trampoline walked effortlessly up the ten-foot-high vertical wall to spin and plummet in a tantalising belly-flop only to spring and twist and walk up the wall time and again and alight onto the highest platform as if they were merely stepping onto a no. 11 bus on a languid Sunday afternoon with the relaxed and unassuming intention of taking a stroll in St James Park and feeding the ducks.

And this modest, unassuming agility was fascinating. When the human body is used to its ultimate potential, even in strength and power, its innate functionality is a gracefulness that renders physical gender-stereotyping redundant: a product of learned social behaviour. It becomes a body of pure androgyny. The machismo, the feminine (and, unfortunately, there was only one female performer), the clowning nincompoop were all subsumed in the inherent, unfettered power of the body as a vehicle of liberation.

I must mention the choreographer, who only sculpts the talents of the performers, Fatou Traoré. As a dancer working with Continental innovators such as Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker, Traoré is doing something very special to develop performing arts in Europe by working in an interdisciplinary mode. Equally, the sound score varied from techno to wailing trombones to the natural sounds made by movement on a miked set. The musician, confined beneath the stellage treated us to a few moments of comedy and a fine piece of innovative percussion using the Perspex wall as his instrument.

Reviewer: Jackie Fletcher

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