Circus Cirkor's Limits
  • This Is Cabaret Rating

In the collective psyche, circus often represents an escape from reality. A space where the rules of gravity don’t apply or where they can be bent, a world outside the world, where reality doesn’t exist, where the colours are brighter and where riotous explosions of acrobatics and death-defying feats keep the monotony of day-to-day life at bay. Premiering in the UK at the Royal Festival Hall as part of the Southbank Centre’s Nordic Matters season, Limits by Scandinavia’s leading company Cirkus Cirkör sets up to do exactly the opposite.

Directed by Tilde Björfors, Limits is a show about borders and crossing them, about what it means to lose one’s home and to cross the world in search of a new one. The performance opens with a monologue about the sea and how the Earth can be divided into territories when the sea just seems to go on forever. Water is projected onto fabric and performers are lifted up into the air, slowly drowning or disappearing into the liquid cloth.

At its heart, the show is eminently political and a huge effort goes into integrating the circus elements into the decor. A metal grid evoking a gate is used as a balance tool, the handstand act is performed on what looks like severed upright legs, the trampoline is dressed with mountains of clothes and at every moment the landscape of the show alludes to refugee camps; personal items left behind, maps and discarded shoes. For the running time of the performance, there is no escape from this reality.

This effort to integrate the circus into the visual narrative is very welcome; because it is so hard to integrate seamlessly, circus too often seems slapped onto stories for no reason. Limits’ set is incredibly creative, each prop has a purpose and the visual metaphor never ends. On the downside, it also means that the message of the show sometimes feels forced, somehow lacking subtlety. At best, Limits creates powerful visual images to convey a political message. At worst, it feels like “Cirque du Soleil does the Migrant Crisis” and it becomes all too much of a pantomime.

The circus throughout the show is very high level. Sarah Lett steals the first half with a very strong, fast and assertive cyr wheel act, and teeterboard artists Anton Graaf and Einard Kling-Odencrants provide an incredible nail-biting finale. Halfway through Limits, Peter Åberg shows off some very creative juggling using a hollow tube that creates beats as he juggles them, as well as a Rubik’s Cube performance that seamlessly goes from upbeat and entertaining to sober and chilling.

But Limits is not the first circus show to recently tackle the issue of refugees and displaced populations. Almost two years ago Review: Circa’s The Return, London International Mime FestivalThe Return from Australian company Circa came to the Barbican, portraying the grief that comes with losing one’s balance and seeking a safe place that always seems to move further and further. But where Circa was all grey poetics and allegorical performances, Limits is all about the colours and the verbalisation of its subject matter.

The performance often reverts back to an off voice reading letters from two men who have fled to Sweden from their home countries of Iraq and Afghanistan, and the letters are carefully chosen to force the audience to relate to these two men. To consider them not like others coming to Europe from an alien culture but like victims of a crisis that we could all be a part of.

In that regard, Limits definitely has its heart in the right place and it is backed by very strong physical skills. And it’s always refreshing to watch circus that engages with the real world, even when that real word means the circus is no longer an escape, but a confrontation with reality.

More information on Nordic Matters and other Southbank Centre shows can be found on the official website.