Original review for the Reviews Hub
Thrilling athleticism and beautiful artistry
A lot of grit, graft, and grazed knees go into greatness, yet for ‘showgirls’ in the ‘greatest show on earth’ the nightly danger is disguised by grace, discipline, glitz, and offstage doughnuts. Ellie Dubois’s circus celebrates the blood, sweat, and bruises of her acrobatic ensemble and aims to articulate, through biography, the physical and psychological labour of its thrilling athleticism and beautiful artistry.
The circus is where artist and athlete intersect: in their striped-and-sequined strips, the freeform structure of the evening features the five female performers striving for perfection in their physical feats, from aerial stunts to striking contorted poses. There’s no flying trapeze or tightrope, twisting and upturning our expectations of circus as effortlessly as the tricks are executed, and though they often don’t feel ‘death-defying’, their dexterity and physicality is still exciting, especially Camille Toyer’s lyrical performance on the Cyr wheel that’s preceded by an explanation of the danger if she were to put a foot or finger wrong. Yet, there’s an assurance, from Kate McWilliam, that she won’t; after all, ‘we’re professionals’.
Even professionals have imperfections, and the physical effort it takes to achieve perfection is as much a part of the performance as the tricks. There’s a gag framed around the effort it takes for Alice Gilmartin to perform her gymnastic tricks – ‘you’re sweating now, Alice, and people haven’t paid to see that’ – and while it works the first time, the freer form of the programme means it loses its impact with repetition. If the form of the piece were a more tightly choreographed programme, the voices of all artists would be amplified.
The performance touches on some powerful arguments about female artistry – McWilliam’s acro-skills are ‘good for a girl’, Gilmartin is almost gagged by her fellow performers Francesca Hyde and Michelle Ross as she tries to talk as part of her act, and a fierce competition rages as all five attempt to outlast each other’s poses – and with some tighter form, the piece could be as articulate as it is athletic and artistic.
Though the new Spielman Theatre is an unexpected space for a circus, its intimacies work well with their specialities, as the stakes of Hyde’s aerial work – suspended, spinning, and supported using her hair – are upped when its so close to home. And, even though Ross’s act, the flying trapeze, is only mimed, it’s used as a fearless truth for the cost of touring and performing; spaces that have space for a trapeze are simply too expensive.
While not the greatest show on earth, No Show is a great, gutsy show of all the grit in the glitz, and without which there would be no show at all.