Aloft Circus Arts of Chicago (USA) burst onto the Fringe scene with their hit Brave Space last year. This year, that show returns along with an evening offering, Aloft Presents Sanctuary – but as MC and founder Shayna Swanson readily informs us, Brave Space “is basically the opposite of this.” Sanctuary is a cabaret, sharing its name with the company’s monthly show in Chicago, and is designed to be an un-directed space where artists can conceive and perform acts exactly how they choose, without fitting them into a themed and directed show. The sanctuary is theirs – we’re just invited.
The sanctuary is the artists' – we’re just invited.
Despite the struggle of an early evening crowd on a Tuesday, Aloft’s artists play the audience well, with special credit to Swanson as MC, who manages to hype up the crowd without overplaying her hand - and the acts back her up every step of the way. Despite an early show technical issue, I have no doubt that we in the audience are in safe hands and about to see an amazing show.
Something that really sets Sanctuary apart is the array of apparatus the acts use. Among others, we see cyr wheel, daring on The Beauty’s tiny stage; floating pole used to incredible effect; and Spanish Web, a corde lisse with added loops to effect some truly impressive spins. Interludes alternate between the MC and a bona-fide cabaret singer with a stunning voice and equally stunning costume, backed by two guitars.
An unexpected show-stealer and personal highlight is juggler David Chervony, who performs two acts as well as playing in the band. Chervony’s concepts seem to take the brief – do whatever you want – as far as possible. A diabolo act has me nearly convinced it is improvised and his more standard ball juggling act seems anything but, combined as it is with a modernist poetry recitation. His command of the audience and comedy skills bring both of these performances that ineffable quality many of us call “fringe.”
As with any cabaret, there is some unevenness between the acts and in the audience response. The sound-sucking qualities of The Beauty’s velvet roof dampens the good faith cheering even further, and occasional moments of grandstanding never quite land in a way that feels satisfying. Nevertheless, Aloft prove beyond doubt that they have years of incredible Fringe shows left in them. Sanctuary would make for a fabulous beginning to any night out at the fringe, and I’m sure the energy of a weekend performance will be particularly electric.