Review: Opus (Canadian Stage)

Circus acts and gravity-defying stunts wow audiences in Opus on stage at the Bluma Appel Theatre in Toronto

Canadian Stage welcomed Australian performance troupe Circa to the Bluma Appel Theatre stage for a five-day run to premiere their latest show Opus to North American audiences. Circa is known as one of Australia’s premier circus troupes and that is what can be expected from Opus, written and created by Yaron Lifschitz — gravity-defying stunts, aerial work, trapeze, incredible flexibility, and plenty of death drops.

Accompanying them on stage was Debussy String Quartet. Rather than just providing live music, the string quartet often served as integral components to the circus performance. Along with Debussy, Circa blends circus performance with classical music resulting in a dynamic show that certainly captured the audience’s attention.

Right off the bat, the stamina, athleticism, strength and performance style of Circa is phenomenal to watch. The show began with Debussy assembling on stage playing a mournful backing piece as a male performer took to the aerial elastics in a mesmerizing airborne number.

From there the Circa members take their time in wowing the audience in a show that is akin to watching Cirque du Soleil but without all the sets, costume and makeup. At times this works to their benefit — with a rather toned-down costume choice for both the men and women paired with equally non-intrusive backdrops and lighting, the acrobatics and stunts became the focal point. At other times, I found myself missing the majesty that the aesthetic elements brings to a circus performance. In ways, I felt like the performance was the rehearsal.

I’ll make this clear — Circa is filled with fantastic performers and the work they’ve put together is, simply put, stunning. I was awed by the human trapeze work as I was with what I can only describe as their “human sculptures” that was an impressive blend of contemporary dance and circus performance. The real strength of Circa is how well all the performers are able to work together and cohesively with immaculate timing.

The main thing that I found lacking in Opus was a narrative, and it didn’t even need to be a solid story line — but even a theme or a build up to an end goal that would make the transitions between stunts more seamless. As it was, the show felt like a number of really amazing and enthralling pieces mashed together that didn’t seem to actually go anywhere. And yes, great stunts from truly talented performers are a treat to watch but after the first 45 minutes, I was looking for more.

At the end, it didn’t feel like that “more” was delivered. Human trapeze was performed a couple more times, the hula-hoop work was also repeated, same with the multiple person shoulder stands. The execution was well done but it didn’t feel like they were giving the audience anything more than the first times these were performed.

There were a few hidden gems — small moments within the contortionist numbers that felt delightfully sensual and hinting at the erotic, moments that felt like a throw at an underlying story, that unfortunately did not seem actualized. Blink and you missed those moments.

Nevertheless, my quibbles with the way the performance was presented should not take away from how well the Circa acrobats dolled out their craft. They do great work and for that alone, if you love the circus, Opus should be a great addition to your week.

Details:

  • Opus is being performed at the Bluma Appel Theatre (27 Front Street East) until November 16th.
  • Show times are at 7 pm with a matinee on November 16 at 1 pm.
  • Run time is approximately 75 minutes with no intermission.
  • Ticket prices range from $30 – $99 and are available online, by phone at (416) 368 3110 or in person at the box office.

Photo by Justin Nicholas.

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