Australian Dance Reviews

Circa’s ‘Duck Pond’: Taking a deep dive into the lake

Circa in 'Duck Pond'. Photo by Pia Johnson.
Circa in 'Duck Pond'. Photo by Pia Johnson.

Sydney Coliseum Theatre, Sydney.
4 July 2024.

Brisbane based contemporary circus company Circa, brought its production, Duck Pond, to the Sydney Coliseum Theatre this July. Duck Pond is a creative take on the Tchaikovsky classic, Swan Lake. Utilising various circus apparatus and skills, Duck Pond explores various themes that feature within the traditional work, giving it their own creative twist. 

Artistic Director Yaron Lifschitz and the Circa team chose some of the key themes of the traditional Swan Lake story, and in the process of creation, took a deep dive into the lake, emerging as something truly interesting. There was an ugly duckling who emerged into the white swan, a saucy burlesque black swan, a prince who echoed Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s Little Prince, and an army of ducklings in place of the signets, with the most adorable yellow flippers and baggy clown pants, who performed a very funny number with mops. The result is a circus work with all the good makings of a fairy tale. The work is abstract yet well-constructed, each section a mixed layering of ideas, interesting choreography with swan and other motifs, and a utilisation of details that impress an in-depth work from the story perspective. Lifschitz uses humour, mystery, and expert direction to create a work that enchants and captures the imagination.

The soundtrack is tantalising, a key player in the work, using excerpts from the original score mixed in with percussive tracks and dance beats. Considering that there are a range of movements originally composed within the score, and they have been used in varied arrangements over the 150 years since creation, Circa has taken the liberty of using the well-known themes, and arranging them in such a way as to take the sense of suspension (apt for the circus genre), and draw it out, looping and weaving the excerpts, increasing the sense of ethereality that is already so fundamental to Tchaikovsky’s score.

The costumes were dominated by a mix of black and white, with some gorgeous glittered unitard numbers, tiny tutu skirts – white swan/ugly duckling has hers around her neck some of the time, and others around their waist. This seemed a nod to Commedia dell’arte, but also the short classical tutu, which became popular around the time of the original production of Swan Lake. There was some stunning gold shimmer in the ugly ducklings costume, and the duckling signets were in yellow, on a background of pale strips that were hung on the back and both sides of the stage. At one point near the end of the work, when most performers were in the white costumes, the strips of material dropped to the ground, and the stark white against the stark black of the back of the bare stage space was quite striking.

The choreography was interesting, and each section had a point of difference, a few scenes with some really nice group choreography and use of the whole space. There is variation in duet work with the whole cast on stage at times, going from duet to trio and whole group, with fast paced changes in conformation, all feeding the dramaturgy, you can see this is considered throughout most of the work. It is not just all tricks and tumbles, contemporary dance is given quite a large voice in this work, as well as the acting and character work, with transitions well-crafted for the most part. The energy was excellent, with light and shade, and a great sense of character in each member of the cast, which carried through the movement beautifully.

Once the frame of material strips dropped down, the work went to pieces; it was a whole different work, but only as an ending, it was not a second half. The Swan Lake story had pretty much wrapped up, and the cast commenced clearing the stage. They rolled up the flooring, took off their costumes, removing everything resembling a set, like you might see in an independent dance piece from the ’90s. They then went on to perform a few other isolated scenes, a hoops trick and a Cyr wheel, among other things. They were good — these are professional circus performers — and these apparatuses are their stock and trade. The Swan Lake theme came back a little toward the end, but the whole final section was quite disconnected from the first three-quarters of the show, and seemed unnecessary. The brilliant sense of crafting and story became a disjointed whole. It went from a well-developed work to an experimental piece, almost as if the two parts were directed by two different people.

The Circa cast is very talented, and for the most part, this show is a lot of fun. There is so much variety available, and something for everyone. It’s always a risk, taking on a story that has been told in countless ways, but Circa has managed to create something quite interesting. It is a great show for all ages, with great tricks and beautiful costumes, and creative storytelling.  

By Linda Badger of Dance Informa.

To Top