Dimitri Shostakovich's often challenging string quartets are given a very literal "run for their money" at the Barbican Theatre with this marvellous synthesis of cirque, dance, physical theatre and chamber music obtained through the fusion of the Australian circus arts ensemble, Circa, and the Debussy String Quartet. The performance is raw in its sheer physicality and strength, sometimes verging on brutality, but is also immensely beautiful and emotive: a game of contrasts which captures the binary expression inherent in Shostakovich's works. The music, played incredibly by the blindfolded members of the Debussy String Quartet, seems to literally drive the acrobats around the stage with staggering momentum.
The Circa ensemble's feats of strength, agility and stamina are astounding. Expect acrobats to fly across the stage, or flip and tumble like fish out of water. Trapeze and hula hoop juggling are mesmerising. There is a lot of theatrical interaction of the members of the ensemble, which evolves rapidly as the music progresses. Certainly, the skill of the performers to defy gravity seems unquestionable, as they move, float, balance and drop across the stage. The choreography of the company by Yaron Lifschitz embodies the music with its rapid, often abrupt, changes of tempo.The costumes and the stage setting are minimal in the extreme, the less to distract from the music and motion.
This is a moody work, which shifts from contemplative and sometimes even comedic moments to an eruption of chaotic frenzy. It pushes the boundaries, both disciplinary and physical, of both the performers and musicians. Definitely not one to miss and highly recommended.
Circa/Debussy String Quartet continues at Barbican Theatre until 22 February. Tickets: £16-£30. Tickets can be booked through the Barbican Theatre website. Londonist saw this performance on a complimentary ticket.