Originally published on broadwaybaby.com
You know you’re at a good circus when you expect your jaw to drop, only to realise it’s already on the floor. My Land, produced by Recirquel Company Budapest in association with Müpa and playing until the 26th at Assembly Roxy, is one such performance. Absolutely stunning feats of strength and flexibility combined with the best technical design I’ve ever seen at the Fringe make for a captivating hour and a well-earned standing ovation.
Despite, or perhaps because of, Roxy Central’s incredibly high ceilings, all of Reciquel’s acts are based on the floor, in strength and flexibility. The score by Edna Mokus Szirtes complements and enhances the stately, dramatic pace at which the action unfolds. My Land does not grasp for the audience’s attention. While perhaps not suited to those easily distracted, the gravitas and intense effort displayed by the seven performers holds focus surprisingly well. Neither is that to say that My Land can’t have it all – a mid-show juggling act speeds up the pace without feeling discontinuous.
The design of the show, by choreographer and production designer Bence Vagi, was as impressive as the performers. If you need a palate-cleanser from the low-budget aesthetic of the fringe, or just want to see how much a well-conceived and -executed design concept can add to a circus show, My Land is the place to go. On arrival, the stage is evenly covered in earthy red grit, and the air is filled with a hint of haze, allowing the audience to see beams of light. At various points throughout the show, the performers clear gaps in the grit to allow the perspex stage to be dramatically lit from below, disappear in perfect silhouette into backlighting, and play against a flexible mirror backdrop that moves with them. All of these set and technical elements cohere with the performers into a visually stunning experience.
All those brilliant visuals, however, do not a metaphor make, and the advertised “Images of tradition, freedom, and love” largely fail to appear. Even the obvious connection between the title – My Land – and the grit on the stage is essentially ignored, even in the potentially metaphorically resonant moment when it is cleared away to the edges of the stage. The ‘images’ come primarily at the expense of the only woman in the seven-person troupe, who is clearly highly trained, but who does not participate in most of the show. After a brief moment of focus at the very beginning, she appears mainly in transitions between acts and kisses nearly all of her co-performers by the end of the show. Her choreography is jarringly sexualised, and reads more like dance than circus. Considering the publicity touts “Six stunning circus artists,” perhaps this isn’t surprising, but it remains disappointing that the only woman in the show was treated more like window-dressing than a true collaborator.
Overall, though, My Land achieves what circus sets out to achieve: to do things that you wouldn’t think a human could do, and to do so with imagination, grace, and splendor.