Melbourne Festival: Limbo

Melbourne Festival Strut & Fret LimboThese days, arts festivals appreciate the variety and accessibility that a circus-based show can add to a program. In Limbo, Melbourne Festival 2015 has picked a ripper; one with the familiar propelled to extremes, and delights of the new and freaky, all set to a great live soundtrack.

The cast of Limbo are match-fit for their Melbourne debut season following substantial international touring. Driving the action along is the Limbo band, lead by Elyas Khan with Mick Stuart and Eamon McNelis. They perform pieces by New York composer Sxip Shirey that range from swampy blues to delicate melodies. These musical offerings complement and enhance the diversity of acts, and are a highlight in their own right.

The set and effects suggest that this Limbo is somewhere between heaven and hell. We get some early setup with Ringmaster Khan in an all white suit fringed with feathers, and there are blasts of fire from below and feathers falling from above at various junctures. The adherence to the idea of limbo seems to come and go, but this doesn’t matter too much given the quality of the acts.

And make no mistake, these are good acts across the ensemble. Melbourne has been somewhat spoiled for quality circus shows in recent years, and some of the acts might look similar to what’s been seen before. This may have resulted in the applause (unfairly) seeming more polite than enthusiastic at times. Despite this, acts such as the suspended hoop routine of aerialist Evelyne Allard showed a high level of precision and control.

Other acts possibly benefited from looking not quite so easy, such as the hand balancing of Danik Abishev. It was in these that Limbo seemed to more strongly embrace its theme, with Khan exhorting the performer to push themselves beyond their comfort zone before they would be allowed freedom from the stage. A touch of the wobbles in these challenges induced a sense of danger and excitement in the audience.

Other acts given a twist through choreography and character included Heather Holliday’s confident fire breathing and sword swallowing, and the ‘did I really see that?’ sequences by contortionist Tigris.

A novel slant is always going to generate interest. In Limbo, I could describe one such element with three performers balancing on poles as `Circus in The Matrix’. This was a riveting act that exploited the element of surprise to good effect. While novelty is good, you still can’t beat the right combination of skill and artistry. The routine of Mikael Bres on the Chinese pole was muscular and balletic.

The musical accompaniment of Watch Me Fall featured Stuart on a musical instrument of his own design, the ‘Polymba’ composed of amplified steel prongs. Sounding like an offshoot of a melancholy gamelan, the tones and mood of the act combined to take this segment beyond tricks and into a surprisingly moving experience.

It’s this type of moment that I’ll remember when the fast-paced mania, some curiously pedestrian physical humour or dance sequences, and special effects are forgotten. For those curious, Stuart will play the Polymba in a free performance at MPavillion on Wednesday 14 October – 1.00pm.

Technical aspects have been well thought through, with performers generally adapting the stage for the next act quite efficiently. It also looks good; sharp and sexy costuming aided the establishment of character with nice touches like glittering red lipstick, and lighting effects were integrated with the acts and musical score.

Tickets are available at a range of prices, and standing tickets for this 75 minute show look a great way to squeeze more out of your festival budget. While I found the second half sharper and more satisfying than the first, there’s plenty to elevate here. I would have been quite happy to spend a while longer in limbo.

Melbourne Festival: Limbo
Spiegeltent, Adjacent to the Foxtel Festival Hub, Melbourne
Performance: Sunday 11 October 2015 – 7.00pm
Season continues to 1 November 2015
Information and bookings:

Image: Danik Abishev in Limbo – photo by Che Chorey

Review: Jason Whyte