Almeida Opera with The Circus Space, Variete

Review in Issue 8-3 | Autumn 1996

Collaborative performances often carry with them a great sense of expectation – we expect that the sum whole will be greater than its parts. But as in cookery, individual ingredients must be blended carefully to retain their individual flavours whilst contributing to a coherent overall taste.

Kagel's music for Variete is an evocation of the Vaudeville style for a six-piece band – including piano, accordion, harmonica, trumpet, clarinet, violin and percussion. His intention was that the music should be performed with circus Vaudeville acts, and although most of the music is quite strictly notated there is room for some flexibility in the timing of the fanfares and rousing flourishes that complete the various acts. The Almeida Ensemble, conducted by David Parry, performed the music with The Circus Space, London providing the athletic cabaret under the direction of Bob Pearce.

The opening clowning routine, complete with comedy suitcase, grey mac and ill-fitting trousers seemed entirely in complicity with the character of the music. The clown's child assistant helped guide him through the confusion of disappearing chairs, until she eventually levitated on a wooden plank. A provocative couple ingeniously manoeuvred themselves into the most unexpected and sensuous series of acrobatic holds. Henry He sculpted beautiful shapes with hoops around his body and there was an exhilarating demonstration of running and jumping into inconceivable balances by two acrobats clad in luminous satin.

The spectacle was made complete with the graceful antics of the rope climber. However, I found my eyes strayed to the 'office’ of the musicians, where the inadvertent theatre of the players seemed equally visually enticing – with its squeezing of boxes and banging of bottles. It was a shame that the performers only had one opportunity to combine the unique ingredients of this collaboration because at times the circus acts were out shone by the complexity and wit of the music.

Presenting Artists
Presenting Venue
Date Seen
  1. Jul 1996

This article in the magazine

Issue 8-3
p. 22