aXis Ensemble and Circus Monoxide. Sydney Festival. Church St Parramatta. 22nd & 23rd January, 2022
Reviewed : 22 January, 2022
Six fearless Australian performers tumble, dance and contort their way through and around a unique steel sculpture standing on a vinyl mat spread over part of the new light rail on Church Street Parramatta. Their performance, titled The Construct, is part of the free, outside entertainment of this year’s Sydney Festival. They attract a crowd of about two hundred – some dedicated Sydney Festival followers, some simply passers-by, others sitting, sipping outside the cafes that line this precinct of Parramatta commonly known as ‘Eat Street’.
It’s a Saturday afternoon. The rain has stopped. The sun is out. There’s a soft breeze. It’s outside, so, we all hope, relatively safe in this, perhaps, Sydney’s most ‘star crossed’ summer. The atmosphere is quietly expectant – and the performance doesn’t disappoint. It is, in keeping with the mood of the times, restrained, controlled, just a little playful.
Set to an “urban, classical” music score composed by musician Dr Judith Stubbs, The Construct, choreographed by Zebastion Hunter was “created for public places as a direct response to the COVID-19 lockdowns”. It is performed by Johnny Brown, Melissa Kisela, Emma Goh, Campbell Clarke, Andrew Summer and Roya the Destroya – all members of the aXis Ensemble from Wollongong’s Circus Monoxide, and all of whom boast vast and varied circus and dance experience.
The narrative Zebastion Hunter has built into his dance/circus creation touches on the variety of emotional reactions the pandemic has elicited– fear, grief, loneliness, reaching out, rejection, re-uniting, mistrust, renewal. All are clearly suggested in this carefully choreographed and meticulously rehearsed performance.
As they twist, snake and spin around each other, high on the poles at times, lying, still on the hard road surface at other, the six talented artists portray the confusion of a society finding ways to deal with new fears and unusual restrictions. It is there in each of their faces, an underlying tension that informs the characters they sustain as they tell their story. That is not easy when you are balancing high on metal poles, swinging away from each other after a suggested spat, supporting each other in a twisting, trapeze-inspired reconciliation.
Circus work such as this requires constant focus, awareness, meticulous timing – and utter trust. All this whilst sustaining an ongoing narrative depicting different characters in changing situations on a metal construction that is moved around on lockable castors. It is a stirring piece of theatre.
In fact, The Construct is street theatre doing what street theatre is meant to do – telling an inspiring story to an audience that craves hope.