Author Archives: Ezra LeBank


About Ezra LeBank

Ezra LeBank is the Head of Movement and Assistant Professor of Theatre Arts at California State University, Long Beach. He is recognized internationally as a specialist in biomechanics, partner acrobatics, contact improvisation and clown. He is the editor of the national periodical for the Association for Theatre Movement Educators ATME News. His book CLOWNS: In Conversation With Modern Masters is available from Routledge Publishing, UK.

Race Horse Company - Super Sunday - Photo by Petter Hellman

Race Horse Company: Super Sunday

Race Horse Company - Super Sunday - Photo by Petter HellmanRace Horse Company opens CircusFest 2016 with Super Sunday, a show that is ridiculous and playful while remaining touching in its reverence to circus history. This young Finnish company was founded in 2008 on the premise of creating ‘a completely new kind of contemporary circus’ and they achieve this, somehow, by going back to its roots.

The central inspiration for Super Sunday is an old school amusement park, which provides a strong dose of nostalgia and plenty of toys. The company, sporting their fair share of man-buns and ripped clothes, feel distinctly cool on the one hand, and like classic circus carneys on the other – it all depends where you place them, and in the Roundhouse at CircusFest they manage brilliantly to incarnate both worlds simultaneously.

The current company, featuring Mikko Karhu, Rauli Kosonen, Kalle Lehto, Odilon Pindat, Mikko Rinnevuori, and Petri Tuominen, succeed admirably right out of the gate, putting their idiosyncratic humour front and center. We get to know the individual personalities of the guys as they each move and play in their own distinct style. Traces of capoeira, clown, breakdancing, yoga, parkour, martial arts, and even twerking find their way into the show (don’t blink or you’ll miss the twerking). But instead of belonging to particular acts, the styles and inspirations seep in throughout the roughly 70-minute show in various incarnations.

From the strong man and the carousel to the old rides and busted costumes, the classic days of circus past are on display with a vintage feel.  Ample time is dedicated to working traditional circus techniques on teeterboard, trampoline, Russian bar, and the classic (and daunting) Wheel of Death, and they manage to make the old feel new, and even a little bit funky, with a raw joy and collaborative spirit that breaks away from the stoic appearance of traditional circus acrobatics. In between these staples, they experiment with exercise balls, nunchucks, and a race car in an act that might leave the most lasting impression of the night.

Super Sunday delivers all the laughs, amazement, and revealing costumes you could ask for, and is a striking opening of what promises to be a landmark London festival. Check your programmes and get out to see everything CircusFest 2016 has in store!

Unlimited - Am I Dead Yet - Photo by Richard Davenport

Unlimited: Am I Dead Yet?

Unlimited - Am I Dead Yet - Photo by Richard DavenportHow will you die? Before walking in to see the Unlimited Theatre production of Am I Dead Yet?, an usher hands each audience member a card that asks this question. These cards, later used in the show, set the tone for an hour of curiosity, chilling episodes (of many kinds), music, and fun, all coming together in a brave investigation of death.

Writers and performers Chris Thorpe and Jon Spooner strike a perfect chord as they toggle between joking, singing, inviting a guest to teach us how to perform CPR properly, and recounting vivid stories about moments before, during, and after death. But is dying really so straightforward? Thorpe and Spooner investigate a few additional stages that force questions about the mechanism of dying that propose a complex and mysterious process, constantly evolving in ways we may not fully understand.

One of their central stories circles around a girl who is playing unsupervised on ice outside her home. She falls through the ice, and presumably has died, until the story takes a turn for the unbelievable. We dive into the reaches of medical advancement, and are challenged to view the starting and stopping of life as something that is more changeable than we might otherwise imagine.

Unlimited have a successful track record of bringing scientific and philosophical material to the theatrical table in their productions and Thorpe and Spooner tell duologues with the kind of exquisite rapport that marks the long partnership of two tried and true pros. They have the audience in the palm of their hand immediately, and they never let go. They get goofy, but only enough to put us at ease, before bringing us face-to-face with challenging and dark questions that we often go to great lengths to avoid. The show’s press materials state that we don’t talk about death often enough, and we ought to. I can’t imagine a more perfect way of bringing that conversation to the table.

Le Patin Libre - Vertical Influences - Photo by Murdo Macleod

Le Patin Libre: Vertical Influences

Le Patin Libre - Vertical Influences - Photo by Murdo MacleodVertical Influences presents a pair of contemporary dance pieces set on ice. The first piece, Influences, places the audience in a typical configuration, in the side seats above the ice rink. We watch the width of the rink where five dancers/skaters explore notions of groups and loneliness. There are soft and striking passages, though the composition stays firmly inside of what I would anticipate in an ice skating show. We see double axels, spins, sharp cuts and patterns, and several sequences of movement around the ice in a pack. There is something quite ordinary about this first half that without its counterpart would be enjoyable and forgettable, but it sets the stage perfectly for the main event.

After our retreat back into the ice rink café for a 20-minute break, where we sip on hot chocolate and tea, eat crisps and candy, we return to the rink, only this time we are led onto the ice. We sit at the end, peering into the shadowy depth of the rink in front of us. This half, called Vertical, is what elevates the evening to something joyous and haunting that will not easily leave my memory. The skaters dive into the notion of glide – which allows them to remain still while moving. Their capacity to generate speed and drift, gliding sometimes at significant speeds without visible bodily movement, builds a series of images, only achievable in this medium, that cut sharply into my visual memory. The skaters glide directly at the audience, stopping only at the last moment, almost leaping at us from the distance. They explore eerily shape-shifting vignettes of glide-inspired choreography that evolve into a striking composition that I hope is the beginning of a much larger body of work not only by Le Patin Libre, but other companies who may follow. Days later these vignettes continue to replay in my mind. Even after viewing dozens of shows these movements hold a sharp staying as they bend physics and reorder our senses. I still see them emerging from the distance. I feel my breath drawing in with excitement, my eyes blurring momentarily and clearing up again, and the lights cut leaving only the echo of shaved ice.

Ellie Dubois - Ringside

Ellie Dubois: Ringside

Ellie Dubois - RingsideI sat outside on a cool evening in a quiet back corner of Summerhall chatting with Ellie Dubois, the creator and director of Ringside. It was the time on my ticket, but they were running about five minutes behind, so Ellie kindly asked if that was all right. We chatted about how hot the venues get on these summer days when the crowds are big and the ventilation isn’t designed to sustain so many bodies for so many hours a day. But this performance would be different. It would be only me.

Ellie excused herself to check on things, then invited me in. She led me through the Dissection Room, and into a large back storage space that was cleared out with nothing but a beam of light that I was instructed to stand behind and a trapeze hanging in the middle of the room.

I stood as instructed, then a woman, Cory Johnson, walked in and stood next to me. Very close. She was made up like a 40s pin-up girl. She smiled a little. She looked at me, and then took my hand. I felt the chalk from her hand brush the white powder off on mine. She led me to the trapeze. We looked at the trapeze together, then she took a few steps back. I looked up. I wanted to leap and take hold of it, but restrained myself for fear of breaking apart the careful sequence of events Johnson was carrying out. But I wanted to leap.

She exchanged places with me, so she stood under the trapeze. After some time, she leapt and grasped the bar. Then she performed for me. She looked at me often. I felt very tall somehow, and wanted to join. But again, holding the idea of a passive role that was written for me, I stood still and witnessed. Ringside blurs this notion of passivity, offering temptations that perhaps other audience members respond to differently, or perhaps we are predictable, and the show follows the same sequence each time. Johnson took her time, moved her fingers deliberately on the ropes, and when she finished her routine she walked out of the room.

I was left standing alone. Chalk on my hands.

As I walked out a man stood at the exit. What had felt personal and sincere suddenly became layered and possibly dangerous. Was I seen as a customer who might get out of hand by taking the show up on one of its temptations? Had the performance been a kind of seduction that narrowly managed its limits? Or was it simply the last performance of the night and he was coming in to close up? In the context of the show it was difficult to tell one possibility apart from the other. Ringside’s many shades of closeness left me in a hazy curiosity. In a festival filled with wild and crazy and exhausting, Ringside pushes the world aside for a few breathtaking moments.

The Edinburgh Fringe run is sold out. If Ringside is programmed elsewhere, I suggest you purchase tickets as quickly as possible.

theRICHOCHETproject - Smoke and Mirrors

theRICHOCHETproject: Smoke and Mirrors

theRICHOCHETproject - Smoke and MirrorsSmoke and Mirrors presents simple, poetic, political acrobatic dance.

The two dancers, Cohdi Harrell and Laura Stokes, use acrobatic structures as vehicles for a subtle kind of poetry that feels more like a dream than a circus. Working in solo and duet, they lead us from the day-to-day grind of business and politics, beneath several layers until they are entirely bare. Piece by piece they lay open the poetry of politics – a done up business of showmanship that hides our nakedness, our humanness, and our poetic limbs.

Highlighted by a duo ropes section that brings circus arts into the realm of literature through its graceful reaching toward a sense that speaks more to prose than circus, I sat happily stunned for the better part of an hour. Smoke and Mirrors, which was a last-minute replacement at Assembly Checkpoint after a show had to pull out due to injury, has blissfully emerged as one of the must-see circus performances in Edinburgh this August.

The setting is as bare as the dancers’ bodies as they weave more complex, layered images than many of the much more highly produced spectacles on hand this month. This acrobatic dance duo from northern New Mexico in the United States offers an extraordinary glimmer of courage that is both unique and needed.