I must admit, upon entering the Royal Festival Hall I was concerned by the size of the stage. It seemed impossible that a circus could perform in such an enclosed space. I needn’t have worried.
For most of us, the circus is something awe inspiring, something that brings out the curious child in us. Cirkus Cirkör’s new show Limits certainly elicits wonder, but it also tells a story. Limits introduces a storytelling to Cirque Nouveau that lifts the genre – a narrative element that doesn’t seem necessary until you’re introduced to it. And then you wonder how circus has survived without it.
“Limits is proof that the arts are not just for entertainment, they have the power to affect change.”
The ensemble production tells the story of the most recent refugee crisis sweeping the globe, in which more people have been forced to flee their homes than in World War Two. Circus as a genre is, of course, a collaborative art form, where the artist’s life is quite literally in their fellow performer’s hands. However for Limits, Cirkör in addition to its artists chose to include live music, composed by Samuel “Looptok” Andersson. Where other companies would have kept the musician safely tucked away in the corner of the stage, Cirkör made a point of fully integrating Andersson into the show. Music as a whole was brought to the fore of this production, highlighting the sheer talent of each of the performers. Each artist had their own microphone headset, proving they are not just acrobats, they’re talented musicians and storytellers.
Peter Åberg – a juggler and hand to hand acrobat – was able to manipulate the atmosphere of the crowd so adeptly that he had the entire Hall in silence, deeply moved as he solved a Rubik’s cube. Limits does not just describe the trials of the refugees, it brings their stories to the stage. Through voiceover, we hear the stories of two refugees trying to make a new life in Sweden. Qutaiba Aldahwa, from Iraq, and Javid Heidari, from Afghanistan, describe their journeys through Europe to Sweden. Though moving for obvious reasons, it was the inclusion of the every day – playing football, graduation videos – that showed the audience just how similar our lives are, or were. Using their lives as a backdrop, the acrobats were able to take something fun and awe inspiring and create a truly moving production. Limits is proof that the arts are not just for entertainment, they have the power to affect change.
Limits is part of the Southbank Centre’s Nordic Matters – a year long exploration into Nordic arts and culture
Image: Mats Bäcker