The Art of Cuddling and Other Things, VAULT Festival

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by Euan Vincent

The Art of Cuddling and Other Things might more aptly be named the art of subversion, as Circ Motif delight in carefully building a set-up before delivering a delightfully twisted punch line. The die is cast with the opening sequence. Lights fade up on two men standing 10 feet away from each other, staring in blank silence. In the corner, a multi-instrumentalist solemnly creates an ambient soundscape (think Brian Eno when he still had long hair). The two men walk towards each other and – without uttering a word – they embrace. Ahh, the art of cuddling. How touching.

After the initial twist, what emerges is a series of skit-like pieces that showcase the multi-skilled talents of the troupe. There’s acrobatics from Ross Taylor, singing, clowning and all-round funny from Hannah Thompson, and circus skills from Joshua Smith, all of which are accompanied by Joe Edward’s live score. Each piece explores different aspects of what it means to be human and is held together by the ever-present desire to deliver a punch line.

We meet an extrovert who revels in proclaiming her extroversion with a half-improvised song (delivered while gyrating on an up-turned chair). Then, a boyish introvert takes the stage and guides us through his juggling routine, delivered with the type of humour that is the typical refrain a teenage oddball.

Bookending all of this are beautifully choreographed movement pieces that both explore and seem to plead with the audience for greater human connection. First, a nervous and ungainly woman is transported across the stage on the backs of her two more confident counterparts. At the end, the show crescendos to a metonym-like sequence that builds movement upon movement – much like music in the round – with each repetition interrupted by subtle variation. It’s mesmerising stuff.

The ability to weave together so many different strands of performance and circus art is a cohesive whole is a tough skill to master. While The Art of Cuddling perhaps doesn’t always manage this perfectly, it’s non-the-less an engaging exploration of it’s subject, and full of good humour and beautiful movement.

The Art of Cuddling and Other Things runs through 7 February.

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