11 September, 2020

Leviathan // Brisbane Festival and Queensland Performing Arts Centre

By Anina-Marie Warrener

Waiting in anticipation for the curtains to open on the first show I have attended in the post-coronavirus world, I was greeted by two feet teasing me, poking out from underneath the curtain. The curtains parted to reveal the scene of a long-abandoned party, a stage full of neon streamers and a girl in a party hat. The first beat of the electrifying score sounded the start of Circa’s Leviathan. A co-production between Brisbane Festival and QPAC with a staggering cast of 36 from Circa, QUT Dance and Circa Zoo, Leviathan was a truly spectacular celebration of humanity.

The show opened with three performers balancing on top of one another and as they leaned forward, my gut twisted. I was convinced that they would surely fall. But they simply gracefully tumbled away. This opening firmly established the strength and skill of the performers and provided me with a sense of ease.

Photograph from Brisbane Festival website

The show was expertly choreographed and directed by Yaron Lifschitz and consisted of continuously evolving and constantly building sequences of increasing acrobatic skill that served the higher purpose. In the Director’s Note, Lifschitz explains that he wanted Leviathan to “celebrate the extraordinary richness of humanity”. The work cycled between choreographic strings featuring the full cast of 36 to smaller groups of two or three. In this way, Lifschitz explored the social contract and shared responsibility in society. Through Leviathan, Lifschitz asks “are we free or oppressed by our interconnectedness, do we define ourselves as individuals or part of a society?”

This idea surfaced clearly in the choreography and the abstract nature of the work allowed me to interpret many different meanings applicable to my own life. The sheer strength and coordination in the execution from all the performers in Leviathan was mind-boggling. They worked effortlessly through the choreography as one cohesive mass. But there were occasional moments that individuals broke out from the masses and expressed their uniqueness through some of the smaller sequences. Each acrobatic display builds on the previous and in some of the show’s final moments, I was awe-struck. The acrobats continued to challenge and build taller and taller formations that each time inspired me with their skill and discipline.

Photograph from Brisbane Festival website

The costuming was simple yet colourful. The performers sported casual wear from shorts and t-shirts to activewear. They looked comfortable and normal. I remember thinking that each of the acrobats could have been anyone I walked by in passing. Their ordinary appearance was in stark contrast to their extraordinary performance. The touches of bright, neon colours in the costuming made each of the performers appear individual and yet still part of the collective mass.

On a technical level, the show featured the integration of a screen used to project live video footage of the artists from a different angle. Most of the time, this was used as a bird’s eye-view visual which the audience would never normally be able to see. There were some very interesting moments of interplay between the digital and the live that made me question my own perceptions. In one instance, the performers on the stage ran in circles but a delay effect on the video footage created an illusion of a spiral in which the individual performers could not be distinguished.

The screen was also used extremely effectively to project some images of large crowds that evoked a sense of riots. It was as if I was placed right in the middle of the crowd to view a small glimpse of the people there. This evoked in me thoughts of the recent Hong Kong or Black Lives Matter protests.

Most of all, I was impressed by Owen Belton’s sound design and composition. The electronic score perfectly set the mood for each sequence of movement and created a sense of complete immersion. The spellbinding score was outstanding and served to illicit a powerful emotional response. I was particularly struck by the voice chanting rhythmically and repeatedly “tick, tick…” as acrobats rushed to make their way from one end to the other of a grid suspended in mid-air. I could see myself as I sprinted to climb and manoeuvre through life to achieve meaning under the immense pressure of the ever-demanding race against time.

There are also a couple of poignant moments where the score just stops, and I could very clearly hear every small movement of the performers. These deliberate gaps were extremely effective at highlighting key moments and drawing my attention to the reality of the noise of humans.

Photograph from Brisbane Festival website

Overall, Leviathan painted a rich, complex picture of humanity and our reality that is inevitably tied to the existence of others. The philosophical underpinnings clearly emanated through the flawless choreography, costume and lighting, visual imagery, and sound design. I felt that the message of this work was particularly pertinent in today’s post-coronavirus world. There could not have been a more relevant time to explore the social contract and shared responsibility.

Inspired by the concept from the work of the same name by 17th century philosopher – Thomas Hobbes, Lifschitz evoked through Leviathan: “A monster king rising up out of the sea whose body is constituted by these tiny little people – the populace.”

This production was beyond outstanding and a true, joyful celebration of human existence.

Leviathan has a sold-out season and will play at the QPAC Playhouse from 3-12 September 2020. For more information, please visit the Brisbane Festival Website.