Seeing the stars spangling Chicago based company Aloft Circus Arts’ posters for Brave Space, last year’s hit, you might wonder – is it as good as all that? The answer is yes, beyond any shadow of a doubt. Brave Space is completely unique in the circus genre, a hard thing to achieve, and is well worth getting up early for its 11:00 show time.
Is it as good as all that? The answer is yes
Aloft’s watchword seems to be ‘trust’ – it’s a quality that pervades the experience of their shows. They trust each other, they trust their equipment and their skills, and they trust the audience enough to bring us quite literally into the show, giving clear and effective instructions to volunteers to help support the artists quite literally flying through the air. What that trust engenders is nothing less than rapturous attention from the audience, from three to 103. While this is not a “kid’s show”, the children in the audience were as wide eyed and attentive as the rest of us.
Brave Space takes place in and around a white circus tent that the company builds and takes down during the performance, inside Circus Hub’s The Beauty. The space inside is close and warm and intimate, but never crowded or overwhelming. The music isn’t too loud, the performers are generous and friendly, and – to this reviewer’s immense joy – there is no cheering. Brave Space allows only for applause at the end of an act. More than any circus I have seen, it is an artistic experience that neither demands nor leaves room for raucous noise.
That is not to say, however, that cheering would not be justified. Brave Space contains act after act of spectacular circus, including two that are genuinely unlike anything I have experienced before. The first is an already impressive doubles act on an aerial sling, with one performer joining with the apparatus to support the other. What makes it mind-blowing, however, is that the audience are invited to lie down on the floor looking up at them. The viewing angle is so fresh I found my mind genuinely struggling to comprehend what I was seeing – sometimes it seemed the performers were moving up and down, sometimes along a horizontal plane, and sometimes seemingly both at once. It was an utterly unique experience.
The other act (with the audience right-side up again) was a group aerials act on a custom vertical apparatus I struggle to even describe – imagine that an aerial rope unwound into many, many yarn-like strands that could be grouped or split at will. Almost the entire company participated, and by halfway through I felt I had absolutely no way of knowing what on earth was going to happen next. Despite all the circus I have seen, I simply had no relevant frame of reference. It was magical.
Brave Space is closing soon, so it will be (hopefully) another year before many, many more people can experience its magic – the balancing, the hula-hooping and juggling, the mind-bending aerials, and the beauty of an incredibly cohesive, joyous group of performers pushing the limits of the genre. Make sure you’re one of them.