Cirkopolis (Circus, Edinburgh Festival) 21.08.17
Cirkopolis does not lack ambition. Filling a conference room on a daily basis in Edinburgh, drawing audiences with its eye-catching promotion of themes of dystopia set to acrobatics, it offers a conceptually alluring promise of extreme highs (literally) and a brutalist background of 1920s German sci-fi. For Cirkopolis is based on Fritz Lang's famous Metropolis, that ancient movie whose images can be seen in Gucci adverts and Queen's video for Radio Gaga, a movie in short whose iconography subsumes its actual story, and whose legacy is really one of a particular kind of style.
Such a legacy of imagery over content continues with Cirkopolis, even if the industrial-scale sets – established cleverly by projection – capture something of the original movie's mood. At the beginning we do get a glimpse of a story, too. An ungainly hero sits at a desk, dealing with mountains of admin, while all around him men and women in gestapo-like raincoats and fedoras buzz back and forth; it's a world indeed that encapsulates Kafka, Brave New World, 1984 and Brazil, as well as so many other dystopian visions of a future where people are dehumanized and dwarfed by bureaucracy. Early on, a lady in red emerges from the gloom and dances balletically within and without a giant silver hoop. The hero and the heroin are established, a romance set up and now all we need is the simplest thread of a story that has them escaping the machinery around them.
Except, that nothing comes from these early moments. The clown-like hero and the woman in red join other routines. The routines are spectacular, one involving giant silver wheels, another involving a circus tent pole and gravity-defying climbing and falling. We get juggling, and one juggler in particular whose speed and coordination leave the audience in rapture. The story, though, has gently evaporated, iconic images from the original movie, such as the android that comes alive, do not feature. Even the clown-like gestapo agents from the beginning become simply part of the acrobatics, their early, sinister body language abandoned along with the raincoats and hats.
The acrobatics, I want to stress, are hugely impressive; I was applauding throughout, as were so many. These acrobats too, are stunning to watch even when stationary, largely a collection of alpha males and females, combining catwalk good looks with athletic physicality, showmen and show-women with glamour and confidence and individuality.Yet, when it ended, I wondered what had become of the story. Had that been maintained, somehow, with the lightest of touches, I would have loved this circus performance for more than just the acrobatics. In the end, what you get is circus with a dystopian aesthetic, without the dystopia. With a bit more drama, it would have been perfect.