By the Light of Stars That Are No Longer

Judith Wright Centre (Circa)


by Yaron Lifschitz and Circa

Professional production

‘What if we acknowledged that we are mortal, temporal and yet we are suffused with a stain of the infinite?’ muses Yaron Lifschitz in his director’s notes on by the light of stars that are no longer…. This show explores the paradox of the human experience through the metaphor of stars that cast light even though many of them are dead before their light reaches us on earth. In a similar way, we can be struck with the absolute beauty of what it is to be alive—of love, of joy, of human potential and achievement—and yet simultaneously know that we are destined, without doubt, to die.

Following the successful tour of their last show, The Space Between, Circa delivers another breathtaking display of circus wizardry melded beautifully with contemporary dance and multimedia. For those who have not yet experienced a Circa show, the company produces work that takes circus techniques into the realm of contemporary arts practice. Their re-imagining of the notion of circus offers a platform for amazing physical feats (and they are amazing) to move beyond simple spectacle; Circa strives for meaning too. And, with by the light of stars that are no longer…, they have created an engrossing show that affects the audience profoundly.

It is difficult not to gush about this work. And I must confess that I’m not the biggest fan of physical theatre — not because I don’t believe in the form, but because I often find its manifestations obscure, inaccessible, even alienating. In this sense, Circa’s concept is clever. Circus body-language is a traditional language that everyone can understand, and what’s more, it is exhilarating and edgy. So, at a basic level, everyone is entertained. But people can also be intellectually satisfied as Circa’s performers simultaneously explore more subtle, philosophical themes. From Leonard Cohen to DJ Shadow and Sigur Ros, an exciting, eclectic mix of soundtrack choices appeals to an all-ages audience, and does not fix the performance to any particular timeframe or cultural context. Murmurs of admiration were drawn from the elderly contingent who sat in front of me right through to the bleached and pierced teen skateboarders behind me. Which is perfect, considering that Circa wants to explore vast, universal themes about human experience.

Circa’s choreography is an effective way to explore the sublime aspects of life on earth; the cast’s immense physical capabilities celebrate the power and grace of the body and create a shrine to human potential. It is impossible not to be awed by the sight of Chelsea McGuffin being hurled metres through the air and caught by her male counterparts, or by James Kingsford-Smith’s complex and superb work on the straps. At other times though, their performances are deliberately halting—their movements unsure, gestures palsied—and infused with failure. Darcy Grant baulks during a section of acrobatics with the two other male dancers, and McGuffin’s solo on ballet points is desperately frail and vulnerable. In this way, Circa explores human weakness alongside its almost miraculous capacity for strength. This is a show about dualities—beauty and death, love and loneliness, light and darkness—and the precarious balancing act we undertake amidst these forces.

There is little to criticise here. Initially, I thought Grant’s and McGuffin’s performances seemed more assured than the others, but was later proved wrong as Carberry’s and Kingsford-Smith’s considerable strength and talent was showcased. The discipline and trust required within the cast for this level of quality is immense and impressive. The lighting design—starry and vast at times, and flickering and geometric at others—helps develop the show’s theme without upstaging its performances. Importantly, I thought, by the light of stars that are no longer… incorporates humour as well. Grant’s solo mime in particular delighted the audience and celebrated the laughter so central to both circus and life. And watch out for a surprisingly understated ending that is nevertheless magnetic and powerful.

A line from David Malouf’s new book of poetry sprung to mind mid-way through the show: ‘Our bodies are breakable. They break all bounds and still arrive at their true nature’. In a highly accessible and entertaining way, Circa celebrates with finesse the triumph and the fallibility of the body, by the light of stars that are no longer.

Directed by Yaron Lifschitz

Playing 3 – 6 July 2007, 7:30pm

Running time: 75 mins

— Casey Hutton
(Performance seen: Wed 4th July 2007)