Attending the theatre always causes a sense of occasion, and with the novelty of returning to these hallowed halls as the pandemic hopefully reaches its conclusion, this has become all the more true. So to attend a show with an expert in the field being presented raises the stakes to even greater heights. Such was the case when I saw the two-bill show Lone + Rocking at Groningen’s Grand Theatre.
It is not a frequent happening to be sharing seats and rubbing elbows with an auguste circus practitioner, one who has made a career of something she loves, and to bask in the exuberant excitement genuinely felt by her in the camaraderie that is the natural law of the performing artists. Yet this was my privilege, and proved to be an infectiously wondrous experience, as well as an illuminating one into the path of circus artistry and creativity. This is because Lone was a wonderfully light piece on the exploration of the self set against the frenzied feeling of shared communal existence – all explored through gymnastics and acrobatics of a more subdued style than that generally associated with the larger than life circus conventions.
Set on a bare stage reminiscent of the late Sally Jacobs’ designs for Peter Brook, Luuk Brantjes engaged in a beautifully lyrical crescendo of movement. First lugging on the stage a bulky sand bag, clad in cream linens and a turtleneck, he explored his surroundings, which comprised a matching set of a large choral red turntable and seesaw. Immediately the tone was set as an intimate piece where the performer invited the audience into his innermost thoughts, punctuated by heavy breathing and the skidding sounds of his bare feet on the cream coloured floor. Sitting in the first row, directly on the same surface as Brantjes, only heightened this personal atmosphere.
This slowly developed into the sort of gimmick – and we use the word here in its most positive sense – frequent in Gene Kelly numbers, where the performer engages with inanimate objects, masterfully morphing them into graceful dance partners. This turned to be the case for the sandbag, which took turns spinning with Brantjes on the turntable, and, in the show’s climax, ultimately came to counterbalance him on the seesaw as he performed one pirouette in the air after the other, each with increasing bravura.
With no dialogue or specific cues from which to derive an interpretation, the show also immersed the audience further, allowing them to project their own sensibilities onto what they saw. The programme officially stated it explored the dynamics between being alone and being lonely, thus relating to the evening’s theme of balance. What was instead striking to me was the perseverance perceivable in the young man’s efforts with the sandbag, as time and again he performed the same movements with impressive control and the same sense of lightness. The routines themselves were devised by Brantjes, and were especially due recognition for their Oscar Wildean sense of beauty and grace, with a pervading lyrically emotive draw.
Ultimately, this was a reflection piece, both for the performer and the audience, and one that was greatly enjoyable at that.