Hawke's Bay Arts Festival / 15 October 2019 / By Rosheen FitzGerald
The house lights rise at the end of the first of Limbo’s five-night stand in the Spiegeltent to the noise of 600 collective jaws being scraped off the floor. I’ll be the first to admit my scepticism. Three thousand bums on seats in the centre of Havelock? For circus? And not just any circus — burlesque circus? You can’t even bring the kids? What were they thinking? Obviously, they were thinking outside the box. A massive gamble in a gargantuan tent has paid off quite simply because Limbo is one of the most spectacular conflagrations of off-beat talent to grace our regional stage. Accustomed to the lofty halls of New York and Amsterdam, attracting a show of this calibre is a coup-de-grace for the festival team that has been rewarded by five sell-out shows and a plethora of ecstatic festival goers sold on dreams of quitting the day job and running away with the circus.
The stage is set in the round, a horseshoe with the band at its crest. A bubble of excited chatter, punctuated by the dribbles and drips of the euphemistic ‘water features’ that have sprung up from the day’s rain, fill the space. Tooth-tinglingly eerie horror-movie anticipatory music lingers, like sharks circling in a tank. Our performers burst onstage, an explosion of sousaphone, harmonica, beatboxing and air horn, handsome acrobats and a flurry of coco-cappuccino ladies all sequins and frothy skirts.
What follows is a rip-roaring 75 minutes of pure frenetic energy, grace, humour, skill and an exposition of the outer limits of what the human body can achieve, in tandem with the quirks and kinks of the human mind. There is balletic contortion — a living puppet whirling as though on a necromancer’s strings. There is a percussive and participatory tap dance, engaging and enlivening. Mind-boggling hair suspension and elastic-limbed aerial hooping. A comic homoerotic striptease involving multiple pairs of Y-fronts. Sword swallowing, whip cracking, and eye-defying fire antics. A sass-eyed tattooed lady necks a neon light sabre with ease, illuminating her throat from within as though with dragon fire — prelude to her extinguishing and relighting torches from her mouth before releasing a mushroom cloud of flame to the roof of the big top. There’s a captivating male pole routine. A trio swing and swan dive in tandem on elastic poles that bend and curve around one another to dramatic effect. A classic lady-in-a-box disappearing act rendered novel by her suspension, feet above the tent floor.
Beautiful tableaux intertwine with acts of breathtaking skill, all presented with a tongue-in-cheek tomfoolery and bombastic musical backdrop. The multifaceted talent of all performers sets Limbo apart from your run-of-the-mill circus acts. They sing. They dance. They play. They clown. They acrobat. And all with a polished consummate style intended to tease and titivate and drive the crowd wild with desire. There’s a deeply creole feel to the act, from the jazz funeral style marching sousaphone to the voodoo zombie contortion to the musical cabaret ribaldry. It tinges the show with a darkness that drags us down into our base; a delicious and pernicious whimsy that opens a chink in the door to all that life with the circus could be. The finale is set to a song in which the performers parade and demand of their audience, who do you love? The answer is quite simply thus — if you don’t go home from Limbo harbouring lascivious desire for at least one if not all of the performers then you’re probably dead from the waist down.
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