Dark Circus is a meeting of live cinematography and electro-acoustic performance created by French duo Romain Bermond and Jean-Baptiste Maillet, otherwise known as Stereoptik.
Using real-time illustration, shadow puppetry, animation, sand, a water tank and various other mysterious objects the two performers create a richly visual film live on stage – projected as it is made, and accompanied by an original composition by Maillet. It’s a very similar format to shows made by Paper Cinema – though stylistically we’re in a different place: it’s moodier, and has a hands-on feel that makes it sometimes seem more like action painting than live animation.
The inspiration for Dark Circus was apparently a short story by the French illustrator Pef. Narratively, it’s a bit thin – we basically enter a circus marquee plonked in the middle of a modern-day metropolis, and are introduced to the various performers one by one: the trapeze artist, the juggler, the lion tamer, etc.
What sets Dark Circus apart is its visual invention. It constantly surprises as figures are constructed out of abstract patterns, and complex visual sequences and transmutations are effortlessly depicted. The imaginative use of everyday objects, the occasional beauty of the projected imagery and the intelligent ways in which images are layered and merged make it endlessly compelling. Being able to see the performers skilfully manipulate the various objects to create these moving images without doubt heightens the audience’s sense of awe. And the score elevates it all into a full-on sensory experience.
This isn’t especially thought-provoking theatre. But it’s heartfelt, technically bold and visually spectacular.