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How Like an Angel

Nerida Dickinson

PERTH FESTIVAL: An inspired and inspirational combination of circus skills with sacred choral harmonies makes for a profoundly moving experience.
How Like an Angel
This unique collaboration between Circa and I Fagiolini brings reverence for both sacred and human wonder together, transcending the everyday mundane world.

The dim light, and thick haze from smoke machines combined with back lit stained glass windows to create an air of hushed anticipation before the show. Spotlights shining up through the gloom would have played better against Gothic arches, but the elegant details on Winthrop Hall’s ceiling stood in admirably.

A trio of black-clad singers on the stage and a capella harmonies lifting through the smoke grabbed our attention, opening the night proper. The shifting spot found a man seemingly made entirely of muscles and tattoos, wearing white trousers and playing with a long wooden pole as the initial trio was joined by more singers, their voices combining to become a multilayered madrigal. The low speed, high intensity, nearly silent acrobatic display was replaced by increased momentum and frenetic energy as electronic music filled the void when the singing ended. The electronic music was itself like the songs of robots, not of family movie-friendly androids, but the hymns of industrial machines celebrating their singular purpose and heaviness of being.

Singers and physical performers alike displayed versatility in moving between a diverse range of styles of music, circus and dance skills, never breaking the gentle flow of the overall experience. Particularly outstanding was the solo clowning act, in which the concept of human beatboxing was redefined by a percussive outpouring utilising everything from one hand clapping to backflips, all with an impeccable sense of rhythm while maintaining an infectious beat. I Fagiolini particularly impressed with their interpretation of ‘Umsindisi’ by Bheka Dlamini, taking to the stage and interacting with contortionists with grace, ease and accomplished call and response harmonies.

Notable throughout was the singular lack of applause as the audience strained to hear every sung note and held its collective breath as acrobats successfully executed astounding feats in the reverential hush.

While some dance-acrobatic routines were lovely, they also had the feeling of being filler material. How Like an Angel is not a long production and the levels of talent were demonstrably high as well as deep, revealing potential for a more engaging show. I suspect some of the interpretative dance routines were a metaphor, with the rise and fall of bodies resonating with the rise and fall of musical notes and concepts from the lyrics, however this came across visually as acrobats flopping along the floor in the manner of freshly landed fish and while undoubtedly requiring great skill, in terms of entertainment, left something to be desired.

Logistics management on opening night was poor, with audience members ushered to areas with no capacity despite the limited seating. The heavy use of smoke machines set off the venue’s alarm systems, which were not shut down in time to prevent the arrival of the fire brigade and the consequential full house evacuation. These were hopefully teething issues that were part of the reason why Circa and I Fagiolini chose to play the Perth Festival before tackling the more idiosyncratic logistics of cathedrals in the UK.

A passionate music teacher of mine, Mrs Barnes, used to bemoan the modern style of liturgical music used in Australian Christian churches. Sacred music was once so beautiful that people would convert from hearing it performed, she would tell us, their hearts touched by the profound wonder inspired by great art. While conversion rates amongst audience members of How Like an Angel will probably go unrecorded, the divinely awesome nature of the physical and musical skill displayed takes us to a place beyond words, moving the part of us bearing the name ‘soul’.

Rating: 4 stars out of 5

How Like an Angel
With Circa and I Fagiolini
Directed by Yaron Lifschitz
Musical Direction by Robert Hollingworth
Electronic Composer Lawrence English
Costume Designer Libby McDonnell
Lighting Designer/Technical Director Jason Organ
Production Tim Evans
Producer Danielle Kellie Performers Julian Aldag, Adam Davis, Todd Kilby, Rudi Mineur, Kathryn O’Keeffe, Kimberley Rossi and Billie Wilson-Coffey
Soprano: Anna Crookes, Emma Tring
Alto: Clare Wilkinson, Richard Wyn Roberts
Tenor: Nicholas Hurndall Smith, Matthew Long
Bass Christopher Adams, Charles Gibbs

Whinthrop Hall, Crawley
February 29 – March 3

Perth Festival
February 10 – March 3

What the stars mean?
  • Five stars: Exceptional, unforgettable, a must see
  • Four and a half stars: Excellent, definitely worth seeing
  • Four stars: Accomplished and engrossing but not the best of its kind
  • Three and a half stars: Good, clever, well made, but not brilliant
  • Three stars: Solid, enjoyable, but unremarkable or flawed
  • Two and half stars: Neither good nor bad, just adequate
  • Two stars: Not without its moments, but ultimately unsuccessful
  • One star: Awful, to be avoided
  • Zero stars: Genuinely dreadful, bad on every level

About the author

Nerida Dickinson is a writer with an interest in the arts. Previously based in Melbourne and Manchester, she is observing the growth of Perth's arts sector with interest.