CIRQUE BERSERK! at the Riverside Studios
“Amidst the theatricality there is beauty and romance and, of course, comedy.”
Against a throbbing soundtrack, we are drawn into a dystopian future. An urban jungle where civilisation has broken down. Silhouetted figures scramble across racks of caged metal. Chaos reigns; and yet there is an underlying precision. An order. The Timbuktu Tumblers, The Khadgaa Troupe, and The Mighty Khaan govern the ground while Hulan, Duo Garcia, and the Berserk Dancers and Aerial Ballet rule the skies. Somewhere in between, the roar of motorcycles and smell of fuselage heralds The Lucius Team; defying gravity and fatality. Toni hurls knives and axes towards his fearless wife Nikol and a giant robot strides across the terrain. Elberel aims her arrow, perched on one hand, shooting from her feet. Antonio Garcia watches, atop his tower of chairs while Sarah Howard hovers like smoke, spinning webs of silk up in the flies.
Welcome to the Berserkus. The centuries-old tradition of circus skills is given the contemporary treatment as the acts unfold before us at breakneck speed. The company of thirty-five performers have converged, coming from all corners of the world. With Cirque Berserk they have no safety net. Yet still they come. Is it dedication, genius, or plain madness? We watch, with palpitating hearts and palms of cold sweat. Is that madness too? Yet as much as we can’t look – neither can we look away.
You think you’ve reached the pinnacle, but the acts get more extreme. Bodies become the skipping rope, the juggling batons. The acrobats are their own apparatus. Contortion is given a new definition in this world where gravity ceases to exist. The performers are not just elastic, they are fluid – their molecules move in mysterious ways.
There is the sense that the artists need a little more space than the Riverside Studios can offer. The traditional Big Top is missing. But they adapt. Just as Elberel somehow manages to distort and compress herself into a bell jar the size of a pickling jar, they work within the limits. Limits, however, that do little to constrain them and their boundary pushing. Nobody is going to envy the person who has to compile the risk assessment.
Amidst the theatricality there is beauty and romance and, of course, comedy. Paulo dos Santos is the giant of the show. All three feet six of him. The warmth of his personality and comic timing shields and then reveals an acrobatic genius – whether spinning in the rafters or being swallowed by an oversized balloon. There is no ringleader. No spoken word. There is no age limit either, upwards or downwards, for the show. The perfect family entertainment – experienced extremely up-close. Although please keep an eye on the little ones, and keep them in their seats. The backstage crew are busy enough as it is.
Enthralling and entertaining and often hair raising, ‘Cirque Berserk!’ mixes the classic and the contemporary. Mixes? It throws them together like an atom collider. And disproves the chaos theory. They make it seem haphazard, and many laws of physics appear to be broken; but one marvels at the sheer precision, timing, skill and concentration that is needed. It would be glib to say they make it look easy. They don’t. Which is why we come away pretty breathless, but thoroughly beguiled.
Reviewed on 10th February 2023
by Jonathan Evans
Photography by Piet Hein Out
Previously reviewed at this venue:
A Level Playing Field | ★★★★ | February 2022
The Devil’s in the Chair | ★★★★ | February 2022
David Copperfield | ★★★ | February 2023
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