If It’s Not Yet Midnight comes across as a complete mess, may there be more chaos in the world. This is a show that may look slapdash, messy and at times dangerously close to falling apart, but it is actually one of the slickest circus acts that has come to London in a long time. Gone are the days of a single trick, applause and an awkward gap while the stage is set for the next routine. Compagnie XY bring fluidity and their unique brand of Canadian cool to every portion of this hour-long tumbling fiasco.
It’s Not Yet Midnight is devised to highlight the success of collaboration and the danger of trying to accomplish everything solo. Working together, the acrobats build towers four people tall; they somersault and flip and vault high into the air knowing that their fellow performers are waiting to catch them as they fall back down to earth. But the show starts as a scrap, a fight, everyone out to perform on their own merits and getting knocked back by another competitor. This mêlée is full of raw energy combined with acrobatic skill. Guttural and visceral, it’s a mish-mash of twists, turns and tumbles without order or composition. Slowly the acrobats start to work together, a trick here and there before returning to the ruckus. Cohesion starts to take shape, until we create a singular collective, a hive of unity that forms under the initially uneasy agreement of a ceasefire.
What results then is the simplistic beauty that can emanate from a time of peace and teamwork. French Canadian vintage style intertwines itself with graceful acrobatic skill – seesaws propel the performers high into the air and groups of their teammates gel together to catch them safely and bring them back to earth. Couples lindy-hop around the stage, no ties or attachments but amicably swapping partners and dancing with whoever is nearby. It’s honest, affable and a little bit cheeky, reminiscent of the Canadian circus style that has dazzled audiences over the last few years. Think Barbu from Cirque Alfonse (some of these performers are now part of Compagnie XY); think Ockham’s Razor; think gentrified Shoreditch with bushy beards and twisted moustaches.
It’s Not Yet Midnight progresses with more acts in the same vein, simple props and the feeling of unity. At times, it balances on a knife edge, a gentle reminder that peace is so hard fought for and so easily destroyed. Every trick has an added level of difficulty to it, a combination routine with linking elements that elevate the performance to a higher level of intricacy. The ‘more standard’ moves simply form part of the background – acrobats head balance while walking across stage, or launch each other from wing to wing, added detail that is more than just moving around. This attitude of pushing to the limits is complemented by the tiny comic touches that endear the performers to their audience. Everything feels fun, bringing with it the magnetic draw to get up and join in. Complex stunts are made simple by their fluidity, ease of execution and jollity in performing. Simple props are more effective than their often seen, over-engineered technological equivalents – wooden boards become trampolines, see-saws into springboards.
The show ends almost as it begins, with dissent in the ranks. But this time the performers are overcome with happiness, not rage. The company dissolves into fits of laughter and amusement as opposed to anger and conflict. The energy of the dance overcomes them all; they try hard to retain the sense of the collective, but eventually break out as individuals, more complete than when they entered the fight that began the show.
It’s Not Yet Midnight is playing the Roundhouse until April 23.
Photo: David Levene