Review: Sensory Decadence, Gasworks Theatre (VIC)

One Fell Swoop’s circus production serves up exhilarating acrobatics and delicious contrasts.
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Performer Ryan Darwin. Photo: James Thomas.

One Fell Swoop Circus’s Sensory Decadence is an accomplished and invigorating work of circus art. The performers’ physically demanding and visually immaculate acrobatic choreography recalls the best of this genre.

This is also a cerebral work, and the stimulating performances are underpinned by a melange of subtle themes. There is a thoughtfulness in the choreography that permeates the physicality of the show with a complex interplay between dark and light elements: the sumptuousness of a banquet scene at the start is juxtaposed with spare and intimate scenes later; opulence, decorum and good taste contrast with raw vitality; moody intensity pushes up against frivolity.

The performers deliver graceful and sensuous performances. Using a swinging suspended platform, ropes, hoops, food, dirt and fire, they daringly pull off a range of exhilarating acrobatic sequences, reflecting various moods.

The show also makes clever use of the autonomous sensory meridian response, a phenomenon that many know by its shorthand, ASMR. ASMR refers to the ‘tingling’ sensation that certain sounds – particularly soft, comforting sounds – provoke. The whispered introduction at the start of the performance and other ASMR stimuli, interspersed with action-packed segments, represent the antithesis of how we might traditionally conceive of ‘sensory decadence’ but add an interesting visceral dimension. As well as showing that the performers are well-versed in pop culture memes, the use of ASMR bolsters the powerful visual stimuli offered by the group’s acrobatics.

There is a strong undercurrent of camaraderie in the show with impressive synchronised sequences alongside brilliant solos. The performers – Ryan Darwin, Ellen Grow, Jonathan Morgan, Charice Rust and Latonya Wigginton – share fantastic chemistry and complement each other. The gymnastic virtuosity of the choreography depends in large part on the players’ perfect synchronisation of movements and mutual support. There is a fine balance between surrender and control, and an inherent risk in group acrobatic performances, and this team ably demonstrates its skilfulness as a unit.

The performers’ athleticism, agility and fearlessness shine through in their performances. The show is both sensuous and clean-cut: it oozes with lush fluidity yet every move is executed with clinical precision. Flawless in its presentation, and invigorating to the senses, this is an accomplished work by a group of talented and provocative artists.

5 stars out of 5 ★★★★★

Sensory Decadence
One Fell Swoop Circus and Gasworks Arts Park
Creators: Charice Rust and Jonathan Morgan
Performers: Ryan Darwin, Ellen Grow, Jonathan Morgan, Charice Rust, Latonya Wigginton
Lighting designer: John Collopy
Set/costume designer: Stephanie Howe
Composer: Duane Morrison
Dramaturge: Debra Batton
16-23 August 2019
Gasworks Theatre, Albert Park
Tickets $30-45

Arjun Rajkhowa
About the Author
Arjun Rajkhowa is a writer and academic who divides his time between Melbourne and the Pilbara.
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