By Quinn Rigg
One would figure that air travel is the only profession that requires knowing how to fly.
Yet the Circolombia circus troupe would beg to differ; laws of gravity do not apply to this band of contortionists, dancers, singers and aerialists.
Jam-packed with weightless acrobatics, Circolombia is a vibrant explosion of Latin culture, ignited by athletic precision and spectacular physical prowess—this non-narrative celebration needs no context. However, the rituals of this festival are not for the faint of heart: ten-foot flips in the air, a human tower three performers tall, aerialists hanging on to one another by their teeth… Despite the obvious, life-threatening risk of these many stunts, this troupe tackles their work with carefree smiles and resolute calm. Spreading joy and wonder is the most important impetus for this spectacle.
Director Felicity Simpson brilliantly ties this troupe into a cohesive ensemble, creating an inviting and exciting environment; the audience is encouraged to scream, laugh, cry, take pictures to post all over social media. Despite the lack of a proper narrative structure, Simpson applies dramatic contexts to each act, imbuing each graceful movement with profound artistry. The trust that Simpson facilitates in these performers is nothing short of inspiring.
Music Director Ryan Wilmott perpetuates the magnetic energy in the room by playing and mixing all of the music live. Accompanying such grand performances is no easy task: Wilmott’s music dynamically shifts to the needs of the performance, ranging from dark and dramatic to bright and supercharged. The bass is constantly pulsing, driving the motion of the show, keeping time with the rapid increase of heart rates on and off the stage.
Lighting Design by James Loudon is artful and specific, enhancing the intensity of every death-defying feat. The stark contrasts and sharp geometry of his work set boundaries for the otherwise barren performance space. Light is especially important in a show with such verticality; aerialists climb higher to the heavens, and Loudon tactfully dims the lights, playing with the silhouette of these graceful bodies in motion. The interplay of shadow and light is a vital and enthralling aspect of this experience.
Circolombia is choreographed by world-class choreographer Carlos Neto, whose hip-hop style brings unifying clarity and refreshing concision to ensemble movement.
Of course, this troupe would be defunct without skilled, energized, talented performers. Not a single weak link in the bunch, the members of Circolombia create an unbreakably tight net of support, focus, and precision. Draping this net over audiences, Circolombia captivates every eye without fail. From the magnetic personalities of singers Juliana Valentina Toro Valesquez and Diana Particia Vargas Montoya, to the electricity of acrobatic flyers Wilmer Andres Martinez and Laura Patricia Tenorio Cuan, each member does their part to share this culmination of their combined efforts.
Running only an hour long with no intermission, audiences can expect to leave Circolombia feeling revitalized, astounded and even relieved—the worry induced by such precarious tricks can work up a high blood pressure. But most of all, audiences can expect to leave with unbridled giddiness; the joy that these artists share is certain to leave all attending with a bit of weightlessness to take home.
Presented in part by The Chicago International Latino Theater Festival and Richard Jordan Productions, “Circolombia” is a limited engagement running through November 4 in The Yard theatre space at Chicago Shakespeare Theater, at Navy Pier. More information and tickets may be found here.