Gravity-Defying Stunts In One Of London’s Oldest Churches

'How Like An Angel', Photo supplied by The Barbican, taken by Robert Piwko

‘How Like An Angel’, Photo supplied by The Barbican, taken by Robert Piwko

Flipping, hanging and miraculously balancing are the types of incredulous stunts performed by Australian contemporary dance group Circa in Barbican’s How Like an Angel, part of the City of London Festival.

Unusually, it is performed in one of London’s oldest churches St Bartholomew The Great to the sounds of Oxford-based musical ensemble I Fagiolini, making one think they are perhaps somewhere in Italy, rather than a back street in the City. Created by Yaron Lifschitz and Robert Hollingworth, Circa and I Fagiolini’s respective directors, the 70-minute show never loses the audience’s attention. Between the church’s creaking floorboards, the dancer’s jaw-dropping movements and the haunting  tunes that ebb and flow throughout, one might even say an exhalation only occurs once the final act concludes.

The show begins with I Fagiolini’s group of nine singers humming a cappella vocals reminiscent of what might have been heard in the church’s founding days of 1123. Amidst both the singers and the audience that are clustered together in the main section of the dark church, out walk the acrobats wearing all white. Within seconds, they are stepping on top of each other, building astonishing pyramids that are soon made even more complex with vases of water balancing on feet, hands and heads. The audience’s attention is next diverted to the alter where a satin rope hangs, made even more beautiful when one performer swings and twists to the musical notes of a medieval monody.

The next performer, looking scarily similar to swimmer Michael Phelps, dives around stage as if it’s a trampoline, finishing his set with a walk up to the stained glass windows sitting high in the rafters. Just like an angel, he gracefully swan dives down towards the audience (where thankfully a mat is laid out). Regardless of this one safety measure, the audience is now panting with overblown nerves. And just when it seems the scare tolerance can take no more, three performers make like Spiderman and climb up a rope, sometimes with one arm and other times with no arms.

After a certain point, you have to give up wondering how they perform such wondrous moves, and go with the even more impressive fact that there is a choral group singing directly underneath the acrobats. Outright silly? Possibly, but it does the trick in constructing a dazzling, yet eerie show that gets to your heart (and to your bones). If there’s one point of criticism, it would be the slightly jarring sequences between the masculine, strength-defying stunts to the juxtaposing graceful, poetic movements on the ropes and silks. But the music keeps up, adding drone-like beats when necessary and I Fagiolini’s mesmeric sounds when appropriate.

Already performed in All Saints Hove near Brighton, Norwich Cathedral and Salisbury Cathedral, this is the show’s last stop with final, sold-out performances tonight at 8pm and 10pm, however, returns may be available. Tickets are £20 and are standing only.

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