23-24th June, 2018
Directed by Tina Koch – Ockham’s Razor
Produced by Turtle Key Arts
Devised and Performed by Amanda Homa, Nathan Johnston and Stefano di Renzo
It’s hard to believe that this performance was not originally devised for the space in which it was performed yesterday. The backdrop of the docks and the soaring masts and rigging of the Cutty Sark set the scene perfectly, and the maritime creaks and sighs woven through the soundscape completed the setting. Despite its name, Belly of the Whale, this show evokes images of ships sailing on high seas rather than anything particularly biblical. The rocking and rolling of the central set piece (sort of like a… seesawing half-pipe which also became a climbing scaffold… look I don’t know circus terminology, okay) beautifully evoked the sensation of waves and tides, with interruptions to the rhythm serving as a reminder that the ocean can be unpredictable and even playful.
There was no narrative or real dialogue to this show, which meant it did tend to feel a little directionless at times, but it was wonderful to recline on the hot pavement (glad I brought a picnic rug!) and immerse myself in the visual and aural feast before me. The performance was billed as circus and was by circus troupe Ockham’s Razor, however as in the case of much modern circus, it was almost more like a mixture of dance, acrobatics, and performance art than what people classically think of as circus. The performers leapt, wobbled, climbed, rolled, ran, stumbled, tumbled, and even play-fought around Thomas Loriaux and Eric Abadie’s versatile setpiece, transforming it by use of ropes, pulleys, weights, bars. Classic circus skills made their appearance mainly through tightrope walking and aerial silk acrobatics. I was particularly impressed by performer Amanda Homa and her effortless supple grace; even when performing clumsiness, her movements were so beautifully fluid and perfectly in time with the music. The show was at its strongest towards the end, when the pace and rhythm picked up, all three performers shared the stage in a wonderfully chaotic but tightly choreographed dance – at other times the pace slackened somewhat and the performers began to lose the attention of some of the audience (particularly its junior members), but for this finale, everyone was absolutely entranced.
It would be remiss not to make special mention of the on-stage musician: combining electrical keyboard, a string instrument which I think may have been a sitar?, various digital samples and effects, live looping, and many more audio techniques of which I am ignorant, he created the perfect soundscape as a backdrop for this performance. At times I was tempted just to close my eyes and sink into the aural world he created, where sailors still sing sea shanties, you must never shoot an albatross, and sea serpents lurk on the edges of maps…
Belly of the Whale will continue touring the UK and Europe throughout 2018 – I doubt any of its other settings will be as perfect as the docklands, but I am convinced that it will still shine in more traditional spaces, so catch it if you can! You can see a list of performance locations and dates here.