Alienation

by | Oct 13, 2023

By Karyn Hodgkinson

Alienation by Jake Silvestro & Romain Hassanin @ NICA 4 stars It has been fascinating to see how circus has developed in my living memory. As a child, it was the proverbial clowns with red noses – sometimes scary to a small child – trapeze artists, aerialists, strong men, acrobats, contortionists and animal acts. Now we have eclecticism in circus where art forms are fused – acting, dance, comedy, drama as well as physical feats. Best of all narrative has been added to the mix. I just love the stories circus can tell, when done well. I have seen even Cirque de Soleil miss the mark when it has attempted a narrative. The story got lost in the spectacle and it was too simplistic and incomplete to touch the audience. So, we are left with a lot of impressive circus feats in amazing costumes – what circus has always been.

This is not true of Alienation, created and performed by Jake Silvestro and Romain Hassanin. This is a work which presents us with a series of images, conveying how people relate to each other under duress. It is the story of two men marooned on a desert island and how they cope with their new environment and each other. The images, often absurd, invite us in on a psychological level, not just the physical. The piece could be criticised for not having enough physical spectacle or climax, but this misses the point. In Silvestro’s words ‘imagine contemporary art, except you get it. That’s this show.’

We are taken on a journey from joy to pathos finishing with a sense of exhaustion and hopelessness – but always with humour. Once marooned the two are at first curious about the natural environment they are in. They play with it, joke about it, make the best of it. However in time, they become jaded and exhausted, spending time alone, alienated from each other. Here they demonstrate their specific skills – Hassanin on roller skates and Silvestro with a giant hoop, both in a very confined space. Silvestro is at first outside the hoop, separated from it, but then he seems to find acrobatic comfort within it. Finally, Romain finds a skull from the plastic mess in their suitcase – the dreaded plastic bags that humans bring with them everywhere they go. We are amused by the skull’s sudden appearance with its glowing red eyes, but it is also a sobering reminder of their and our mortality.

This piece is unapologetically masculine, with its choreographed raw physicality involving rough and tumble, leaping, counterbalancing and absurd play. Particularly enjoyable are the athletic ‘dance-like’ sequences, done in unison. They have their own beauty.

The stage design invites our curiosity immediately. We are greeted with the two men sitting in a suspended boat enjoying a day on the water. They are both in everyday attire – shirt, pants, sneakers. Perhaps with a larger budget, more could have been made of the boat and the business happening in and around it. The sound design and music flow well, enhancing the action and images on stage – at once playful, threatening, stormy, atmospheric, poignant. The songs such as Lost Out at Sea are what is needed at specific moments. I would have appreciated having the composer acknowledged on the publicity material. That said, the whole piece clearly had the keen eye of Adam Deusien, the director.

I very much enjoyed this piece for its originality, bravery and for the way it made me think – not to mention the considerable skill of the performers. They show their acting, dance, comedic and physical chops thoroughly. Treat yourself – see what circus can do for you.

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