By a Thread

By A Thread utilises seven performers, 30 metres of rope, and two pulleys to explore ‘the relationship between trust and play’.
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One Fell Swoop Circus’ By a Thread. Photograph by Aaron Walker.

One Fell Swoop is a Melbourne based contemporary circus company, and their production of By A Thread utilises seven performers, 30 metres of rope, and two pulleys to explore ‘the relationship between trust and play’. 

A seemingly simple premise has become an intricate and mesmerising piece of art. Most productions go to great lengths to hide the mechanics of how their show works, By A Thread puts it in front of your face to help explain the relationship between performer and apparatus. The performers are always connected to the rope and to each other, whether they are climbing, spinning, swinging or whether they are acting as an anchor point. Each performer has the opportunity to impress the audience with their individual skills in scenes by themselves or in duos or trios, but the true strength of By A Thread is when everyone is working together seamlessly as one unit. It truly is a brilliant ensemble piece. 

It is so surprising how effortless performing By A Thread appears to be. Whilst showing great displays of strength, balance, agility, flexibility, concentration, and endurance the ensemble continue to perform with serene smiles on their faces and at times expressions of pure joy.

Almost more impressive than the physicality of the performance is the way they all appear unfazed by the sweat dripping down their faces, their muscles being pushed to the limit, or the unavoidable rope burn they must all endure.   

The performers rarely speak, and even though the show is obviously well rehearsed, the high levels of trust and non-verbal communication are apparent throughout the entire performance. They have to trust that when they throw themselves on or off the rope someone will be there to anchor or catch them. There is a great scene which parodies, but also gives insight into, the rehearsal process where the performers verbalise their movements – ‘climbing, weight going on’. This shows how they develop their roles and relationships, but due to the comical nature of the scene is more of a ‘how not to’ guide to developing trust.

While the focus of the production is on the performers and their relationships it is necessary to mention Lee Stout’s sound design and AfterDark Theatre’s lighting design which effectively helped create and change moods throughout the show. They added another layer to the non-verbal communication between performer, apparatus and audience.

When you see a traditional piece of theatre and find yourself constantly asking the questions ‘how?’ and ‘why?’ it usually indicates a terrible piece of art is being presented. However, with more physical art forms such as contemporary dance and circus the questions arise as the audience ask ‘how do they do that?’ ‘how did they figure out they could do that?’ and in regards to performances where there is great risk involved ‘why would they do that?’ and ‘why would they think it was a good idea to do that?’. All of which are of course asked in admiration, fear, and the knowledge their own bodies would never be capable of achieving such incredible things.

Rating: 4 1/2 out of 5 stars 

By a Thread

One Fell Swoop Circus

Directed by Jonathan Morgan and Charice Rust
Ensemble  Charice Rust, Jonathan Morgan, Ryan Darwin, Piri Goodman, Sarah Berrell, Luke Thomas, Ela Bartilomo 
Dramaturg Zebastian Hunter
Lighting Design After Dark Theatre
Sound Design Lee Stout
Costume Design Emily Barrie
Technical Operation Dawn Holland
At Gasworks Theatre until Sunday 16 July

Jess Zintschenko
About the Author
Jess Zintschenko