by guest critic Rebecca JS Nice
Groupe Bekkrell at CircusFest 2018 presents four women with a climbing rope, teeter board, tight rope, Chinese pole and one energetic stage hand. Four women dressed in tweed and a stage rigged with lights directly at its edge sit tiny as a nucleus within the vast empty dome of the interior of The Roundhouse. Despite the booming base and explosive soundtrack, the work has a gentle expansive presence that dwarfs its surroundings by the time it comes to an end.
Fanny Alvarez, Sarah Cosset, Océane Pelpel and Fany Sintés badger and bully each other with voices distorted by mouthguards as they strut and swagger. Pulley penises dangle between their legs. As their rhythmic, guttural goading points to the absurdity of masculine displays of strength, comradery and potential to make and build increase as the performers gradually shed their masculine alter egos. The subverted spectacle destabilises everything around it except its power.
The Bekkrell Effect frames robust femininity within a reversal of circus trick formation that normally builds to a series of climaxes. The performers’ use the exit of a trick over its climax as part of the constant reconstruction of mechanical form on stage. This form subverts the circus goer’s expectations whilst allowing for an experimental and playful use of set. It comes at a cost, disappointing those viewers who thrive on the highs and lows of taking a trick to its highest, fullest, and most dangerous version but its integrity, methodology and commentary on the circus genre counterbalances this in both form and ideas. Stylistic choices in movement create casual, angular alignments with an occasional nod to the ‘ta da’ with a mocking gesture that cracks the audience.
The drama is in the constant building and deconstructing of the world around them, which literally hangs on the performers’ every move. Counterbalance is taken to its riskiest, as humans dangle and swing opposite a suspended teeterboard. The teeterboard and bodies dangle from a complex set where pulleys, tightropes and even lights are ratcheted up and down. Climbing ropes drape forwards and back like vines in an industrial jungle, where bodies are caught both carefully and slightly carelessly, swaying close enough to take out a light or an audience member. This gradual build of play between person and set parallels the gentle shedding of masculine tropes.
Jumping from tightrope to teeterboard, catapulting, somersaulting and twisting, ranting and wriggling up a Chinese pole both disperse and fuse with set building and its possibilities for play. Handstands, walkovers and cartwheels one minute to three women dragging the fourth around like carthorses pulling a bossy load. A soundscape constructed through miking the set allows the friction of rope and pulley to illustrate the materiality of the piece and its workings which is the spine and strength of this unusually dark and casual work.
The Bekkrell Effect runs through 22 April.
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