Robert Lax’s 1959 book The Circus of the Sun recounts a day in the life of a travelling circus. Philip Glass has drawn inspiration from Lax’s original book and created Circus Days and Nights, a contemporary piece that explores the life of the circus once more. Described by Glass as a ‘circus opera’, this piece is a mix of live music, beautifully sung opera, undeniably impressive acrobatics and circus-style stunts. Cirkus Cirkör are live-streaming Circus Days and Nights, across the globe, from Malmö.
A live orchestra performs the backing to this piece and it is stirring and comforting in equal measure. While the music itself is captivating and dreamlike (and occasionally nightmarish), the lyrics feel very simplistic and sound like the singers decided to sing in a stream-of-consciousness style or as if lyrics will be written and performed later. The wording is literal and direct, with little symbolic or metaphorical script. Considering this work is based off the works of a writer and a poet, you’d think the language used would be more inventive.
The costumes by Magdalena Åberg are brilliantly kitsch, with oversized suits, modern takes on harlequin prints and chic colour block clown costumes. Within this exuberant design there are Yayoi Kusama-esque polka dots and mind-boggling swirl patterns. The visuals of Circus Days and Nights are very Scandinavian: simplistic but arty and stylish. I find the chic, almost minimalistic approach works well when refining traditional circus costumes, but I’d have liked a more outlandish design for the Big Top. With no real ‘set’ it leaves the show feeling just a little hollow.
One thing that Circus Days and Nights does quite well is the good old-fashioned spectacle of it all. Aside from the music and the story, the actual performers are undeniably brilliant. Acrobats and tumblers perform around classic circus characters such as the bearded lady and the ringmaster. They hurl and twirl around the room, seemingly with ease, and I can’t help but look forward to the day when we might be close enough to see the ripple of their costume as they spin, or catch a whiff of the smoke from the fires they start.
A fairly entertaining piece restrained by moments of lacklustre lyricism, Circus Days and Nights is a classic circus spectacle with a modern twist.
Circus Days and Nights is streaming from Malmö Opera, Sweden until 13 June. For more information and tickets, visit the Cirkus Cirkör website.