Up close and physical: stripped down circus act thrills Hong Kong audience

Yaron Lifschitz’s Close up show features four circus artists performing in cosy intimacy. It’s raw, genuine, and dazzling

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 20 January, 2016, 2:08pm
UPDATED : Friday, 22 January, 2016, 3:52pm

In Close up, there are no fancy costumes, props or (more alarmingly) safety net in sight. All there is in front of us is the performers, their powerful bodies, and a cosy intimacy between them and the audience.

This lack of theatre adds to rather than diminishes the hour-long performance at the Udderbelly Festival Hong Kong , which is packed with nail-biting moments. It also focuses the attention solely on the four circus artists – Lauren Herley, Todd Kilby, Robbie Curtis and Lisa Goldsworthy – and their daring acts.

Kilby opened the show, directed by Yaron Lifschitz, with a warm-up act that featured some standard calisthenics. His steps were unsure and slightly wobbly at times but that didn’t make his “human flag” any less impressive. His upper body strength was evident as he climbed, swung and slid up and down the long pole, and did forward and backward flips.

Herley is an acrobat on turbo. With broad and muscular shoulders, she is power on legs. Yet the graduate of the National Circus School of Montreal is also extremely flexible and that combination of strength and flexibility means she can perform awe-inspiring acts, such as balancing a standing split on someone’s head. Her vertical rope act later in the show was simply stunning as she worked her way up and down the long rope with grace and style.

Of the four, Curtis has the warmest stage personality and I have never seen toes that are as powerful as his; they grip firmly onto blocks as well as soft balls, which he juggled with ease and precision. Goldsworthy is perhaps the least seasoned technically but she is bursting with youth and vitality and her hula-hoop act, which was also projected live onto a large screen, was a real crowd pleaser.

There was also one part that involved audience participation, which helped those watching warm even more to the performers.

Close up is exactly what the title says it is: the artists perform at very close range and we can see the sweat running down their faces and hear their breathing. There were moments when I braced myself for the possibility of being hit by a flying hula-hoop.

All that made this very physical show feel raw, genuine and, at times, intense.

For those who enjoyed this small production, a much larger piece by Lifschitz will be staged in March as part of this year’s Hong Kong Arts Festival.

The show runs until January 31.

Close Up, Udderbelly Festival Hong Kong, Central Harbourfront. Reviewed: January 19