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Circa's "Il Ritorno" a Juxtaposition of Disparate Wonders

by Joanna G. Harris
February 8, 2018
Zellerbach Hall
Bancroft Way at Telegraph
(2430 Bancroft Ave.)
Berkeley, CA 94704
510.642.9988
Juxtaposing circus arts with the music of Il ritorno D’Ulisse in patria (Ulysses returns to his homeland), Australian troupe Circa in its latest production "Il Ritorno" told a story of loss and displacement. Six acrobats joined chamber musicians and singers led by music director Aaron Lifschitz who created a score for mezzo-soprano, Kate Howden, and baritone, Benedict Nelson, accompanied by keyboard, cello, violin, viola, harp and electronics.

Directed by Natalie Murray-Beale, the program notes tell us that the tale as presented here is heavily influenced by Primo Levi’s description of returning from Auschwitz. The 1640 music from Monteverdi’s 17th-century opera about Ulysses’ homecoming is exquisite.

The extraordinary mix of music and acrobatics proved “how extreme physicality can create powerful and moving performances.”

The event demanded close attention from the audience. Not only did the delicate score (in Italian), the singers and the instrumentalists perform with exquisite skill requiring close attention to the musical nuance, but the acrobats, who tumbled, climbed, rolled, swung and soared were present throughout. For the most part, their actions underscored and supported the painful and dramatic storyline. Sometimes however, the feats of skill were so overwhelming in scope as to be detracting. The event was dramatic on both sides of the stage, amplifying but sometimes obscuring the music.

The most dramatic moments, outside of the thrilling balances, spins and lifts, were when a single performer threw herself across the stage to illustrate Penelope’s lament. The stage set (by Jason Organ) was dark; the most scenic element was a black fence against which all the acrobats leaned before they exited. If Lifschitz intended an image of worldwide refugee crisis, he and they have succeeded with “Il Ritorno.”
Circa acrobats in “Il Ritorno”

Circa acrobats in “Il Ritorno”

Photo © & courtesy of Tristam Kenton

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