Yaron Lifschitz trained in theatre, only to find he “didn’t like plays very much because they were full of people talking about stuff that didn’t happen.” As creative director for Circa, a contemporary circus company in Brisbane, he instead embraced performance that doesn’t insist on its meanings but on its sheer physical presence (though last year he also created a Circa show based on Shaun the Sheep).
Humans 2.0 is where circus meets contemporary dance. There’s a sombre, poker-faced intensity to its formations and human pyramids, all set to the pulse of Ori Lichtik’s electronic score. Ten serious, stacked performers don’t demand or hog applause; there’s precious little razzle-dazzle. Although always impressive in its sculptural heft, it isn’t especially engaging.
But the skill is immense, the performers tussling with gravity in feats of balance and muscular control. In their three-storey human towers, only the occasional quiver of load-bearing thighs betrays the effort involved. Someone does handstands on another person’s head; a woman bounces between prone bodies, landing precisely on their shoulder blades. Except for interludes for rope, swing and a squirming aerialist doing the splits in her straps, there are almost no props. These bodies are the kit, beams and climbing frames.
This show builds on Circa’s 2017 piece Humans, but the title also suggests that humanity itself is in development. If this is the future, it’s an impressively hench one: there’s core strength for days, and some of them could open a jar of pickled onions with their thighs or use their arms as an emergency girder.
If a theme does emerge, it’s about trust. There’s nothing that is required more when depending on colleagues not to drop you from a great height. But tellingly, Lifschitz also builds in occasional fails, to remind you what’s at stake. A man twirls through the air only for someone to step aside and let him crash. A woman tries leaping from a man’s shoulders: he staggers but won’t let her launch. Circus runs on trust, to let you fly but keep you safe.
Several routines end with one person being cradled in another’s arms. Perhaps this is humanity’s hopeful next iteration: the assurance that someone will always be there to lend a hand.
At Underbelly’s Circus Hub on the Meadows, Edinburgh, until 27 August.