Saturday, September 24, 2011

Brisbane Festival - Steampowered

Being a Cirque du Soleil aficionado, I thought it was about time I gave other circuses a go. I saw Circus Oz's Steampowered last night at QPAC, and I thought it was pretty decent. The very talented troupe perform a plethora of acts with their multi-disciplinary skills which are fantastic, but I couldn't get into the show because of the music, design, and the frequent comedy.

Since it's a circus, it makes the most sense to look at the acts first. The disciples on display were worldclass quality, and it was utterly inspiring to see that the troupe were so talented in handling dozens of feats. The best acts were the hola-hoops, static trapeze of two performers, a duo trapeze with two women with the emcee telling us some facts which felt like feminist propaganda, and Chinese pole which I assume represented cogs in an engine. I enjoyed most of the acts, but even the best of them had their flow interrupted too often by comedy. I can appreciate the necessity of comedy in a family-oriented show, but in some cases it was really jarring and I just wanted them to get on with it. My favourite was the static trapeze, a lovely intimate act that was accompanied by a really witty song, and had just the right balance of comedy and skill to begin with. Over the course of the act the male trapeze artist develops a ripped seam in his pants, which unfortunately led to the troupe making a huge deal out of it, stopping the act, and provoking this really inane humour to force on us. Likewise, there was a great hola-hoops act which was interrupted far to often, so the artist would look either bewildered, or offer an audience member some flowers - I thought the design was clever but the execution too way too long for the sake of comedy. She comes back in the second act and manages to spin with around 7 hoops which was great, but that was a huge buildup you have to get through to enjoy the acts. In a stroke of misfortune, plenty of the acts that were complied were among some of my least favourite (rolabola, artistic bicycle) so that didn't help much. The troupe clearly have talented but it seemed like they could have improved without so much comedy.

The comedy when not interrupting acts was really funny. The opening of the second act involved the emcee walking around the stage bemoaning how the power was gone and how we would be stuck together, but then cheerfully painted an image of a post-apocalyptic world going on outside while we were safe watching the group. That was followed by a REALLY clever acro-sport act where they portrayed the political climate in Australia. It was simply perfect. Besides the emcee there were two women, one who presented shpeels on safety and the other, 'Fantasia Fitness' a narcissistic promoter of her own material whose various mishaps end with an awkward silence followed by '...I meant to do that'. Really clever stuff.

What originally attracted me to see Circus Oz was the appeal that Steampowered had a distinct influence of steampunk, a beautiful pseudo-Victorian fantasy style which has me fascinated. Cirque have utilised steampunk in a few of their shows (Zed, Zarkana), and the result has been beautiful. Of course it's not fair for me to compare Circus Oz to Cirque du Soleil, but it's inevitable - Circus Oz had some nice features on stage, but aethestics in steampunk are everything, and I found that the design was too sporadic. I wanted the stage stuffed with clocks and gears, when in reality the backstage was occupied by a fantastic drumkit, but then grates on the wall with projections of gears. Basically I just expected too much of the design, so it's no one's fault except for mine.

Music was too loud and a bit too rhythmic, and in sucession a bit too tuneless, for me to get into. Hats off to the troupe, who also perform in the brassy overture and finale. There were a few songs which the emcee presented - she had a vibrant and commanding voice and most of the songs were pretty good, although the last one was a bit of a mindfuck when the lyrics involved such gems as 'englargening', 'penetrating', and 'expanding'. But in the end no-one cares except me.

All in all I enjoyed it, but hyped myself up for it way too much since I expected more from the design. I liked the acts but they were interrupted too often by comedy and there were a few feats that I really loathe. The comedy when not interrupting the acts was solid and genuinely funny, and the music was okay but too loud and brash for me. My friends seemed to enjoy it, and it's over 9000 times better than Ovo, which will be spreading its shit on our shores next July-ish. I'd recommend it if you're looking for something to see in the Brisbane Festival and haven't already gone to see anything, since now Rhinoceros in Love has finished. It's hard not to be impressed by the talent this troupe has.

Tickets for Circus Oz's 'Steampowered' range from $25 to $45, and is showing from 21st to 25th of September, 2011 at QPAC Playhouse. Book by visiting the Brisbane Festival Website or visiting the Circus Oz Website.

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