The light is dim (an amber glow), the stage is empty, and seemingly bare – but no, the floor is strewn with sand. We are in a desert. We are in the land of the archetypal. We see one young woman, and a group of men – shadowy hooded figures. Nomads, ancestors? Who she is we never really know – she is ‘other’ in this land of men, existing as a foil.
A figure, almost-naked, in a sand-coloured loincloth, kneels, and scrapes patterns in the sand to reveal a mirrored surface (cleverly created with a glass floor lit from below). Narcissus? At the rear of the stage, a wobbling mirror-board reflects and distorts. Now there are two men, mirroring each other perfectly, then exploring the dynamics of mirroring, shadowing and complementing each other’s movements. Their hand-to-hand work is deliciously slow and smooth. Somehow, the base man rolls and slithers and twists and turns on the sand as he supports his partner. They make a perfect head-on-hand stand, limbs extended, stair-shaped. They are on the floor, both in yoga child-pose, one on top of the other. Such skill, such beauty.
The stage space opens up in depth, a harsh light from the back silhouetting the elusive woman and the hooded figures, who all enter, kneel, slapping their hands on the ground in time to the heavy drumbeats. The woman retreats, the loin-clothed men leap and tumble in a frenetic dance-off. Walk-over splits, cartwheels, back-flips galore. Then there’s just one man – the hero, the loved one. He embraces the woman; others try to tear them apart. There’s a brilliant play-off between the hero and his challenger; a fluid, flowing juggling and dance sequence, almost capoeira, slowly building up from one ball each to two to three to…
We next meet the woman duet-ing with one of the other men. She treats him with sisterly love, he mostly does his own thing. He’s an extraordinarily talented contortionist, his body bending into unbelievably flatness. He arches back into an ultra-tight bridge that makes him look like a bent-over playing card. She handstands on his reversed-over body, in perfect balance.
The highlight of the show is a gravity-defying ladder act by Sergii Materinskyi – a breathtaking dance to the sound of a Hungarian gypsy violin. (Recirquel are from Budapest.) The ladder and the human body waltz and whirl together, the ladder somehow staying upright, the performer weaving his body in and out of the rungs with spectacular ease. This violin track is in a rather different mode to the rest of the soundtrack, which has an epic, cinematic feel and features Moldovan chants and Tatar folk tunes mulched into the symphonic musical melange – in keeping with the company’s mixed Eastern and Central European background – although the company is Hungarian, but most of the performers in this show are Ukranian.
My Land is a beautifully designed, lit and performed – this is a show demonstrating an extraordinarily high level of circus and dance skills, which are employed to explore and portray archetypal images from our collective unconscious: the power of the tribe; brotherhood and brotherly love; competition for the beloved ‘other’. Mankind, essentially. Or Manhood, at least. The ‘Land’ of the title is less a land of humanity than a land of men, and my only complaint against the show is the lack of a female presence with any agency. Perhaps, for that reason, better to have been an all-male show?
That aside – a gorgeous example of the merging of top-level circus skill with brilliantly realised scenography, and a strong dance sensibility.