Compagnie XY's Le Grand C, the latest act at the Roundhouse's Circusfest, combines dazzling acrobatics with distinctly low key execution. A giant, moving pyramid of bodies is created in near darkness, and staggering leaps, flips and tricks are performed with the same nonchalance as a walk across the stage.
Tricks overlap each other with no drum roll or fanfare to distinguish or announce them. This means that the audience’s attention is not signposted and instead we have to decide where to place our attention. This helps create the privileged feeling of watching a warm-up or a rehearsal. You might find yourself completely engrossed by a performer who is securing his belt, rather than watching the far flashier three-man tower being discretely built in the corner.
The joy and spectacle of acrobatic circus is discovering the extraordinary and usually unexplored potential of the human body. Compagnie XY neatly encapsulates this idea with the human towers they build throughout Le Grand C. The performers stack up unfeasibly on each other’s shoulders, looking like giants and disappearing into the gloomy ceiling.
It is the humanity of these godlike creatures that is most fascinating to watch. The physical strain and fear of falling is palpable. One of the last towers of the show is created while the performer at the bottom of the structure sings. As more and more performers are stacked on his shoulders, his beautiful voice dries up, and the audience holds its breath. The unbearable tension this creates is broken by a scene of choreographed falling, which allows us to breathe again. Thus the arc of tragedy is physicalised - the rise to greatness and the fall from great heights.
More than showcasing the staggering beauty and capabilities of the human body, Compagnie XY create entirely new creatures from the astounding to the absurd: giants, waltzing trees, multi-limbed monsters. There is a gentle humour that runs concurrent with the darker, more dangerous elements of the show. Compagnie XY combine all the traditional fun of the fair with a distinctly modern edge. Roll up, roll up to see the profound eloquence of the body, the poetry of silence and the drama of stillness.
- Georgia Blake