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Studio Theatre: Mead Theatre, 1501 14th St. NW
Friday, July 15, 6 p.m.
Friday, July 22, 10 p.m.
Saturday, July 23, 6:30 p.m.
They say: “Total strangers stumble upon each other’s secrets as everyday interactions unravel into aerial, musical and visual stories of longing, leaving, catastrophe and luck. Each person must confront, midair, the people and events that are transforming their lives.”
Ali’s Take: Fringers, watch out for the ladies of UPheaval, because they are poised to turn your idea of what a circus act should be upside down and inside out. If you’e looking for the fast-paced razzmatazz of a more traditional trapeze act, pack up and move out because this one’s not for you. If, however, you’re looking for a set of chance encounters and missed connections played out in death-defying acrobatics, stick around, because the performers of the DC Aerial Collective have thrown together a lovely, if at times mismatched, set of circus acts.
UPheaval begins with the gathering of strangers at that oh-so-familiar setting, a city bus stop. The usual players are invited to the mix: the homeless man playing his bass guitar for coins, the Nervous Nellie who can’t get off her cellphone, the workaholic typing furiously on her laptop, the free spirit who isn’t afraid of anything, and the sad, quiet statuette lugging her suitcase of long-lost love and regret. These misfits stay at the edge while the true star of the show descends centerstage: the swing, the rope, the silk, whatever piece of material is to be mounted, climbed, twisted and contorted as each character tells her story.
The confessions begin as Gwynne Flanagan takes the swing and fills the stage with torn up love letters and passionate words of fury and longing. The wistful notes that float up from W.M. Goree‘s melancholic bass guitar accompany Flanagan as she glides through the air. Next up is EcHO, who strips off her grey business suit for a poignant aerial performance accompanied by a recording of Rimsky-Korsakov‘s Scherherazade op 35.
The next act of the show is perhaps the most touching and cohesive of all. A brush between Flanagan and Kate Winston sends them clambering for the ropes to act out their differences. Accompanied by Goree and the powerful soprano vocals of Tara McCredie, the two women weave in and out, playing out their emotions through intricate acrobatic maneuvers. The last two numbers are the swift yet compelling swing solo by Sonya Melissa, accompanied by a recording of remixed classical music, and a joyous traditional Flamenco dance performed by Sarah Candela and accented by Winston, who twirls midair on a large hoop.
While the acrobatics are remarkable, the pace suffers from long, painful intervals spent waiting for both sound cues and the next piece of aerial equipment to become securely rigged. The Mead Theatre’s infrastructure fails to meet the needs of an aerial acrobatic show: The performers seemed cramped and closely contained under low ceilings. The hackneyed dramatic device of strangers’ bus stop confessions tires after a while, and the separate acts lack a unifying storyline. While universal themes of loss and longing pervade each act, melancholy becomes elation without any cohesive transition. Yet even with these narrative setbacks, UPheaval remains a pleasing display of acrobatic skill and talent, with a few other circus genres thrown in.
See it if: You always wanted to run away to the circus, and you don’t mind waiting a few minutes for the circus to come to you.
Skip it if: You lose your marbles on a regular basis while waiting for the crosstown Metrobus to arrive at 7th and H.