One of the beautiful things about acrobatics is the way human bodies can collaborate in difficult-to-imagine ways. Stepping on another person’s head is not a violent act, it’s a demonstration of trust and pre-meditation to bring about something spectacular. So, how do acrobatics serve a story that is about violence and degradation? This is the question that KIN raised to me, and I’m still not sure how to answer it.
How do acrobatics serve a story that is about violence and degradation?
The six members of the British-based Barely Methodical Troupe play characters stuck in a vague, dystopian situation waiting for the return of a feared authority figure who might call through a red phone but it seems he will never return. Five of the characters are identified only by un-sequenced numbers and appear to be competing for the favour of the sixth, a middleman perhaps reluctantly representing the absent authority. This middle character seems caught between poles, sometimes enacting detached violence on the other characters, sometimes demanding heartfelt confessions, and sometimes ending up in vulnerable positions herself. After a purposefully unsettling establishing sequence, a brilliant cyr wheel performance is rewarded with a simple banana and competition for the prize breaks out among the five numbered characters. However, as the show progresses, it does not hold to the pattern of each competitor demonstrating their skill. They start to compete for what seems to be the pseudo-romantic attention of the ranking character.
Besides the cyr wheel, there was an extended see-saw sequence which served the plot very well. The rest of the show was floor acrobatics, and quite impressive floor acrobatics at that. It is difficult to create the impression of actual animosity in an acrobatics show, since the art form itself is inherently collaborative. In that respect, I think Barely Methodical achieved their theatrical ambitions – I really did believe in the complex and often aggressive relationships between these characters. Unfortunately, I believed it so much that I found the troubling relationship dynamics genuinely distracting from the physical performance. It is one thing to watch a person in clear collaboration with their castmates manipulate others’ bodies, literally walking over them; it is quite different to see a character with apparent power of life and death over others do the same. KIN did not seem to interrogate this dynamic. None of the powerless characters appeared more than superficially discontent with their lot, and the cognitive dissonance between the violence of the scenario and collaboration and joy of the circus was too great for either one to come to full fruition. Combined with the vagueness of the plot and characterisation, KIN left me more confused than anything, to its detriment as a circus and as a play. Unfortunately, it added up to less than the sum of its parts.