Casus is a company of four who perform circus tricks. Despite an eclectic soundtrack, we might call their wordless offering Knee Deep a minimalist traditional show – a range of skills are demonstrated without sequinned costumes and also without much in the way of character or story. How much you enjoy this show will likely depend on two things, how many circus-type performances you’ve seen and how long you’re prepared to stand in a queue to get a seat close to the front.
The performers are undoubtedly skilled with apparatus such as the suspended high bar and ribbons. They display great strength in balancing upon and supporting each other, and some of the formations were incredible. Also, an early sequence where one performer being spun quickly around another clutched for grips to maintain the momentum had a real sense of risk and excitement. This excitement was not present in other sequences.
Knee Deep has a number of scenes that I could summarise as: performer enters stage, performs tricks on apparatus, performer exits stage, and often the tricks were pretty much the same as what I’ve seen before. We’ve had a lot of shows drawing on circus or vaudeville acts in recent times and it is impossible to avoid comparison with these. Circus Trick Tease or This Is What We Do For a Living give the audience a story alongside tricks, Circa’s Wunderacts gave fragments of unexpected fun and The Trip very recently had unusual props, androgynous characters and musical numbers that made it more like athletic cabaret. Despite the raw skill of Knee Deep, by preventing performers from becoming characters the company hasn’t found a new angle on circus such as that which makes the aforementioned shows so memorable. And, some of the tricks here were a little tame when compared with recent La Soiree season.
As there is a core of skill to the show my feeling of being underwhelmed is possibly because I was promised an experience which didn’t materialise. From a promotional blurb, “Featuring Australia’s hottest circus troupe Casus, the performers will lift each other up by the jaw alone, create four person towers and use an egg to demonstrate their careful artistry showcasing the incredible strength and fragility of the human body”. The performers provided the tricks and strength promised, but I don’t know how you show physical fragility without breaking a bone. Eggs were used occasionally, mostly for performers to walk on. From my point of view, I felt that the egg metaphor was quite a superficial overlay on a series of tricks.
When I say “my point of view”, here I’m including my ability to see the show. I had the bad luck to be in the back third of the Spiegeltent with a twisted metal bar and a pillar in my field of view, but the flat seating means that many people who are not at the very front will have trouble seeing sequences set on the stage surface because we can’t look through the person in front of us. It is more than a little frustrating when shows don’t anticipate and adapt to the limitations of their venue. There was some more use of eggs in this floor work, but I’m not convinced that seeing this would have radically changed my opinion of the show. The summary given above suggests that Casus need to get beyond “Knee Deep” and truly dive in with an artistic director who will help them compete on level terms with the competition.