Silvestro’s acrobatic virtuosity has allowed him to tour constantly with major Australian physical theatre companies including Circa and Circus Oz, as well as internationally with his own company Poncho Circus, as well as Casus and many others.
When the pandemic struck, international opportunities quickly dried up, and Silvestro, like many other Australian artists working overseas, returned home and busied himself working with local companies including Belco Arts, Australian Dance Party and The Flying Fruit Fly Circus.
Though he was in Amsterdam when he heard news of the Australian bushfires, Silvestro was so moved by the plight of the bushfire victims he felt that he needed to find some way of creating an artistic response to the catastrophe, and December is the result of that yearning.
Utilising an evocative lighting design by Becky Russell together with a compelling sound design by Brendan Napier, the work begins in darkness with the sounds of a roaring bushfire filling the theatre.
As the lights slowly fade up they reveal a lone figure with his back to the audience among the blackened debris of a burnt out house of which only a brick fireplace remains.
He’s dressed in protective clothing and the high-vis jacket he’s holding suggests that he’s returned from fighting the fire. As the work progresses other clues suggest that he may have lost his wife and child in the fire.
His grief and desolation is expressed in a series of virtuosic, superbly executed tumbling movements. Then, as he begins to sift among the wreckage, he discovers pieces which suggest that he’s a professional circus performer.
Firstly he uncovers an undamaged chair which he tests with a series of manoeuvres. However when he discovers its mate, badly damaged by the fire, his composure leaves him.
Grief-stricken he fashions a baby from some burnt fabric. He then transforms the fabric into a representation of his wife and dances with it. This dance is interrupted by a violent storm.
As the storm clears, a piece of paper flutters to the ground. He carefully shapes the paper into a paper plane which magically boomerangs back to him, whenever he throws it. Eventually the stage is filled with paper planes. A sign of hope?
Magpies chortle, and he begins to draw plans for a new house. As he draws on the ground, his plans are duplicated in projections thrown on to a smoky screen above him. He drags burnt clothes from a dressing table, and uncovers some hula hoops which he playfully and brilliantly manipulates in a joyful highpoint.
Uncovering another piece of circus apparatus, a broken cyr wheel, he repairs it and proceeds to perform a virtuosic routine to the song, Am I Ever Going to See Your Face Again.
These are just a few of the many affecting moments to be discovered, and although there is no specific storyline, Silvestro draws on his strong charismatic presence, his graceful movement style and acrobatic brilliance to hold his audience transfixed as alone on the stage for the full 55 minute duration of the performance he creates a dramatic arc symbolising recognisable experiences with which his audience can easily empathise.
December is a unique and powerful work which will linger long in the memories of audiences lucky enough to experience it.
Jake Silvestro: December
Playhouse – Canberra Theatre Centre, Civic Square, Canberra
Performance: Friday 1 April 2022
Season: 1 – 2 April 2022
Image: Jake Silvestro in December – photo by Mark Turner
Review: Bill Stephens OAM