Melbourne Festival: Opus

The experience of watching Circa continues to leave me a babbling mess of words that don’t come near to describing how they make me feel.


Opus, which was co-comissioned by the Melbourne Festival and premiered in France in 2013, was developed by Circa’s choreographer and director Yaron Lifschitz, the Circa ensemble – it’s the first show to feature all of the ensemble – and the world-renowned Debussy String Quartet, who are based in Lyon, France.

Lifschitz doesn’t so much as meld dance and circus, but flings them together in ways that force both to a height where failure means certain death and success means flight into the unknown. His performers fly at velocities that usually need seat belts.

The music is live, with the quartet playing Adagio for Strings and String Quartets 11, 8 and 5 by twentieth century Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich. The composer’s world was filled with war and death, so his music is a bleak and angry look at humanity that’s beautiful because it reaches the parts of us that hope for a better world.

The quartet are positioned to be danced and moved around. For all the intent to make the live music as vital as the dance, they remain separate. Maybe watching bodies at the limit of human strength and flexibility is so amazing that men playing at the limit of human skill and concentration can’t compare. This is also felt in the clash between music etiquette (clap in the silence when the music is over) and circus etiquette (clap at the end of a trick). Circus wins and the insult of cheering and treating a live quartet – who are playing music about horror and fear – as background music adds a somewhat frustrating dynamic to the experience.

But the urge to cheer is difficult to overcome as what seems physically impossible is repeatedly proven to be possible.

The choreography is the embodied emotion of Shostakovich’s music. It’s the sense of control in what can look like chaos. People cling together and explode apart; they climb and balance or fall and are caught; and they repeatedly collapse and keep get up in ways that defy belief.

It’s dangerous movement and for all the logic that reminds that everyone is safe, there’s a thrill in knowing that the line between being caught and being broken is wafter thin.

Opus finishes on Sunday. It’s jaw-dropping, heart-stopping wonderful.

Anne-Marie Peard

Anne-Marie spent many years working with amazing artists at arts festivals all over Australia. She's been a freelance arts writer for the last 10 years and teaches journalism at Monash University.

Anne-Marie Peard

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