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Acrobats and string quartets share the stage in ‘Shostakovich circus’

Sometimes circus is all clown cars, caged tigers, and the incomparable scent of elephant dung. Sometimes it’s more sublime.

Opus,” which comes to Eisenhower Auditorium at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, November 11, “is cut-glass, caviar circus,” writes a reviewer for The Telegraph of London. “It’s black tie and ball gown circus. And it’s an astonishing thing to watch: graceful, bombastic. Profound.”

Fourteen acrobats and a chamber ensemble comingle amid the music of Dmitri Shostakovich in Opus, a work of power, virtuosity, and poetry performed by Australia’s Circa and France’s Debussy String Quartet.

In Opus, created by Circa Artistic Director Yaron Lifschitz, three of the Russian composer’s quartets—intimate, passionate, lyrical, and ironic—form the musical and dramatic foundation for a union of extreme acrobatics, lyrical movement, and group choreography. More than just a source of musical accompaniment, the Debussy ensemble performs from memory and is woven into the action.

“This show by Aussie circus company Circa should come with a ‘don’t try this at home’ warning,” writes a critic for Time Out London. “The piece relies on so few gimmicks, it looks as though all you might need to pull off a jaw-dropping acrobatic stunt is a running jump and a couple of hefty guys to catch you. The fact that Circa makes feats of supreme strength, agility, and prowess look like anyone could have a go is an accomplishment, of course. Opus is so effortless and graceful it teeters on the edge of contemporary dance. The appearance of the Debussy Quartet, playing live onstage, certainly helps to blur genre boundaries still more.”

A reviewer for the British newspaper The Guardian describes Opus as “an evening so remarkable as almost to defy description. … extraordinarily moving.” A critic for Canada’s La Presse calls it “a masterpiece of circus art.”

Since 2006, Brisbane’s Circa has blended bodies, light, sound, and skills to achieve its vision for contemporary circus. The company has toured to six continents and performed in more than thirty countries.

Based in Lyon, the Debussy quartet garners international praise for its many recordings and live performances. The ensemble, winner of the Evian International String Quartet Competition, was created in 1990. The quartet, which founded the Les Cordes en Ballade chamber music festival, has released more than two dozen albums.

“Even the simple collision of art forms is thought-provoking,” writes The Telegraph reviewer. “Why is one high and the other low? What makes a musician virtuosic and a circus performer freakish? Here acrobatics looks as disciplined as ballet: all arched feet and hyperextension. Circus becomes poised and noble. Not unruly. Not cocksure. Violinists start to seem sexy and fierce. Why does no one ever run away to join a string quartet, I wonder? Lifschitz does more than set circus to Shostakovich. That would make the music seem an arbitrary accompaniment. Rather, he interprets it as any ballet master or opera director would. He lets you visualize the music. He makes you understand its structure.”

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