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Circa: Opus

An incredible display of physical dexterity that ultimately fails to gel into a work of art.

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Paul O’Keeffe, Kathryn O’Keeffe and Debussy String Quartet in Circa’s “Opus” (Photo credit: Max Gordon)

Paul O’Keeffe, Kathryn O’Keeffe and Debussy String Quartet in Circa’s “Opus” (Photo credit: Max Gordon)

Joel Benjamin

Joel Benjamin, Critic

Is it churlish to criticize extraordinarily gifted athletes whose every move elicits gasps of awe and admiration?  When does too much showing off become too much of a good thing?  Those are the troubling quandaries that plagued me during and after seeing the Australian gymnastic/theatre/dance ensemble Opus on BAM’s prestigious NextWave series in a work called Circa.  It would be far easier to praise the jaw-dropping prowess of the performers than find fault with the work’s overall construction, or lack thereof, but this wasn’t billed as a circusy parade of dexterity, but as a work with artistic merit.

Opus, created by Circa’s artistic director Yaron Lifschitz, aims at some deep meaning it never quite reveals.   Performed to Shostakovich’s dark-hued chamber music played live by the exquisite Debussy String Quartet, Circa puts the lithe, beautiful members of Opus through their paces.   The disparity between the constant onslaught of agile tricks and physical derring-do and the layered, passionate Shostakovich score became more and more obvious as this 90-minute work unfolded (and, not for no reason, Libby McDonnell’s costumes became skimpier and skimpier!).  The members of the Debussy Quartet, dressed in white shirts and black pants, constantly wandered about the large stage of the Howard Gilman Opera House often guided, even lifted, by the performers—sometimes barefoot, sometimes blindfolded—playing, remarkably, from memory. Unfortunately, over-amplification did not benefit Shostakovich.  The four musical selections provided an aural environment that was fundamentally ignored:  the complex music was the backdrop to ever more devilishly complex gymnastics.  Sudden chords resulted in spasmodic jumps and large wrenching movements; the sadder sections elicited slow motion versions of lifts, throws, balances, etc.   The compilation of tricky acrobatics never matched the poignancy, subtlety, ambiance or overall richness of the Shostakovich music.

Circa in a scene from “Opus” (Photo credit: Max Gordon)

Circa in a scene from “Opus” (Photo credit: Max Gordon)

The sobriquet “tricks” is probably not a fair or adequate description of the acrobatic feats these fourteen gymnasts displayed.  Their tours de force included:  balancing upon each others’ shoulders like giant totem poles; forming arches in backbends upon which others balanced; hanging precariously from ropes and stretches of cloth; and forming impossibly balanced sculptures.   They hung off each other.  They rolled on the floor and on each other.  They formed lines and circles that communicated a certain sense of communal camaraderie, but little else.  Gender didn’t seem to matter:  women did as much lifting as the men.

The appeal of acrobatic entertainment endures for a reason—just look at ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics—but, aside from representing a stunning pinnacle of physical perfection—which the members of Circa certainly do—Opus appealed more to the hormones than the heart or brain.

Shostakovich did a great deal to make Opus artful, but the production didn’t do much for Shostakovich.

Circa: Opus (November 4 – 6, 2015)

Next Wave Festival

BAM Howard Gilman Opera House, Brooklyn Academy of Music, 30 Lafayette Avenue in Brooklyn

For tickets, call 718-636-4100 or visit

For more information, visit

Running time: 90 minutes with no intermission

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Joel Benjamin
About Joel Benjamin (552 Articles)
JOEL BENJAMIN was a child performer on Broadway and danced with leading modern dance and ballet companies. Joel has been attending theater, ballet and opera performances ever since childhood, becoming quite opinionated over the years. He was the founder and artistic director of the American Chamber Ballet and subsequently was massage therapist to the stars before becoming a reviewer and memoirist. He is a member of the Outer Critics Circle.

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