Cal Performances Circa 1 Tristram Kenton

Circa: Il Ritorno – Physical Storytelling – Circus Theatre and Opera!

above: Pictured: Circa performs Il Ritorno Saturday–Sunday, February 3–4, 2018 in Zellerbach Hall. (credit: Tristram Kenton)

Pictured: Circa performs Il Ritorno Saturday–Sunday, February 3–4, 2018 in Zellerbach Hall. (credit: Tristram Kenton)

Physical Storytelling: Circus Theatre and Opera!

Circa Contemporary Circus, based in Australia, is one of the world’s leading performance companies. Circa presented Il Ritorno, directed by Yaron Lifschitz and produced by Cal Performances, February 3-4, 2018, as part of the innovative Berkeley RADICAL Blurring Boundaries programming strand, at Zellerbach Hall. The Blurring Boundaries theme focuses on artists that explore classic with contemporary disciplines, culture and time.

Based on Il Ritorno d’Ulisse in patria, one of Monteverdi’s early operas, and Circa’s contemporary circus arts, Il Ritorno tells the story of Homer’s The Odyssey, through abstract movement that expresses the battles of displacement, exile, loss and emotional struggles, mirrored by refugees of today.

Seven performers from the Circa Company begin as sculptural shadows who emerge across the stage, while four musicians and two singers are on the other side of the stage in full view of the audience. It’s an interesting vision and works well for this production where the Circa performers are the main focus but at other times the musicians are highlighted, especially when mezzo-soprano Kate Howden and baritone Benedict Nelson sing their duet and solos beautifully and powerfully. Musical director Natalie Murray-Beale leads the musicians brilliantly.

Slow sustained Butoh like movement and acrobatics to mournful cello and harp music create an eerie atmosphere that is immediately engaging. Wearing timeless costumes combinations of gray shorts, dresses, tank tops and shirts (costume design by Libby McDonnell) the performers change pace, niftily jump over each other, tumble in fast forward rolls, and climb on shoulders to a three person high – plus some daring innovative moves that surprise and thrill. The circus skills sometimes tell part of the story abstractedly and also serve to change theme and drive the piece forward.


Pictured: Circa performs Il Ritorno Saturday–Sunday, February 3–4, 2018 in Zellerbach Hall. (credit: Tristram Kenton)

A black wall that runs across the stage is an interesting set piece, which offers some of the most creative and emotive imagery in Il Ritorno. The performers lean, crouch, balance, and bounce off the wall – with the most dramatic and poignant parts of the piece when performers freeze on the wall in contorted movement and stillness, it’s hauntingly stark and human.

Several songs from Montiverdi’s beautiful Baroque opera music are complemented by repetition, variations with voice, instruments and an electronic soundscape, producing a rich, melodic ethereal experience of timeless space. There is an effective delineation of the wide stage space made by warm lighting on the musicians and cool lighting on the Circa artists (lighting design by Jason Organ and stage design by Organ and Lifschitz.

Il Ritorno is a creative piece of movement opera with Circa’s graceful, lithe and athletic contemporary circus performers successfully pushing their boundaries towards intensive and dramatic physical storytelling, set to beautiful music by Montiverdi merged with fascinating electronic sounds.

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Jo Tomalin, Ph.D. reviews Dance, Theatre & Physical Theatre Performances
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About the Author

Jo TomalinOriginally from England Jo Tomalin is currently based in San Francisco, where she reviews Theatre & Dance for & - she works in the performing arts as a freelance movement & voice specialist, director + actor. She is also Professor in the School of Theatre & Dance at San Francisco State University, teaching Movement for Actors, Voice for Actors, Storytelling, Business of Acting, Acting and directs MainStage plays. Jo's first play "Jessica" which she also directed was produced at the Fringe of Marin - a One Act New Play Festival. Jo Tomalin studied Classical Acting at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA), London; and holds a teacher's diploma (ATCL) in Voice and Acting from Trinity College of Dramatic Art, London. She studied Classical Ballet for 12 years; Graduated from London University's Laban Centre Teaching Credential program in Modern Dance, Art of Movement & Choreography; Completed the two year professional training course at the renowned acting school "Ecole Internationale de Théâtre Jacques Lecoq" Paris, France, where she also completed the Laboratoire du Mouvement (LEM) scenography and movement course. Jo also holds a Master of Science degree in Educational Technology from Boise State University and a Ph.D. in Education with a specialization in Instructional Design for Online Learning from Capella University, MN.View all posts by Jo Tomalin →