Australian circus company Casus brought their acclaimed autobiographical two man show You & I, staged in a theatre setting, to Edinburgh in 2018. For Ed Fringe 2019, the company (creators of Knee Deep and Driftwood) return to more familiar Spiegeltent territory with a new ensemble piece, DNA – in this case, increasing to a seven-strong company, four women and three men.
There’s a familiar Casus start as all make their entrances from different points in the auditorium, onto the almost-in-the-round thrust stage. At the rear of the thrust, lined up on stage, are a row of chairs, which are used throughout in a way sometimes reminiscent of Pina Bausch’s Kontakthof, as performers step in and out of the action. Bausch’s ghost is also present in the gestural choreography that is a motif throughout the piece, arm flicking or hair smoothing gestures mirrored, or passed from one performer to another.
Everyone is dressed in a deep red that feels like a visual extension of the tent’s red plush drapes, in varying styles of high-waisted pants, bodysuit or skirts, embellished or plain, so that each is part of the whole, yet individual. I struggle at first to understand the relevance of the title/theme, DNA, and especially don’t understand what the red-hooded figures that are a recurring motif represent – hidden demons, perhaps? But never mind, it is visually lovely, highly skilled circus set to a great soundtrack. On reflection, I think the message is that although nature and nurture vie with each other within one human body, nature will out: we are who we are, regardless.
Although DNA takes on a more traditional format, the themes developed in former show You & I – of self-identity, and being true to yourself, play out here too. There’s fluid ensemble acrobatics and hand-to-hand, including a breathtaking never before seen (well, not by me anyway) walk-across that turns into a cartwheel; expert hand-balancing, using those chairs, naturally; and plenty of challenges to gender stereotype, with a strong female base holding up two, three or more of the other women (and often men).
In a lighter moment, there’s a comic aerial act in red high heels and a vaudevillian flouncy dress that refuses to guard its wearer’s modesty, this to what sounds like Florence Foster Jenkins, the early 20th century opera singer who refused to believe that she couldn’t sing. A metaphor for the trappings of femininity that are holding the woman back? A shadow screen at the rear of the stage is used cleverly to add another visual dimension to the piece.
All the ensemble are great – but the stars that shine brightest are Jesse Scott and Lachlan McAuley, co-founders of Casus (with DNA director Natano Fa’anana, and Emma Serjeant, who left the company a few years back). These two base and fly with such tender ease, whether on the ground or in the air for the doubles trapeze, their bodies moulding into and growing from each other effortlessly. Maybe, following on from You & I, it’s because we know that the two men are a longstanding couple in real life, as well as in circus life, that the love and support visible tugs so strongly at our heart-strings.
DNA feels a little uneven, and not completely cooked as a show – but it is so skilled, full of so many beautiful images, and balances strength and tenderness so well, that on balance, it’s fine.