Review: English Baroque with Circa (Australian Brandenburg Orchesta & Circa)

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Photographed by Steven Godbee

In the third instalment of their award-winning collaboration, the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra and Circa delighted Brisbane audiences with their skilful, joyful performance, bringing together contemporary circus, stunning vocals, and music from the English baroque.

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Photographed by Steven Godbee.

Leading period musicians from the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra, which celebrates its 30th anniversary this year, played a pasticcio (I looked it up so you don’t have to – a musical work created by combining works from different composers) created by the Brandenburg and Circa Artistic Directors, Paul Dyer and Yaron Lifschitz. The pasticcio was intended to conceptualise the English Baroque in 16th and 17th century England, and includes works by composers Purcell, Dowland, Corelli, and Handel as well as traditional tunes like Scarborough Fair and The Garan Mother’s Lullaby.

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Photographed by Steven Godbee.

Joining the Circa artists and Brandenburg musicians onstage was ARIA Award-winning soprano Jane Sheldon, who first sang on the Brandenburg stage as a teenager and most recently for their 25th anniversary celebrations, and Sydney-based soprano Lauren Stephenson. Sheldon’s clear, ringing voice sent shivers down my spine, and her rendition of Scarborough Fair is by far my new favourite. Sheldon also joined the Circa artists in the air for one song, and the heavenly combination of the two soprano voices in harmony, along with the smooth swinging of Sheldon on the trapeze and the fluid motions of the Circa artists around her, was soothingly hypnotic.

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Jane Sheldon (front) with the Circa artists. Photographed by Steven Godbee.

The evening was divided into four ‘Scenes’ – The Court, The Bedroom, The Chapel, and The Fairground – that, for one enchanted evening are bathed in magical moonlight and filled with play, beauty, and pleasure. The lighting, designed by Peter Rubie, changed subtly from scene to scene, but the transitions were otherwise seamless.

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Photographed by Steven Godbee.

The masterful, multi-skilled Circa artists straddled a line between circus, dance, and physical comedy, and almost all of them demonstrated their prowess in a different style or apparatus solo, from hoops and handstand artistry to aerial work, balance feats, and diablo.

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Photographed by Steven Godbee.
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Photographed by Steven Godbee.

The audience was astounded by the fluidity and grace of their movements, their jubilant energy and personality, and their apparent ease and assuredness even as they seemed to defy the laws of physics. A few minor fumbles couldn’t detract from the overall delight and awe their performance evoked. Their feats took monumental strength and control, as well as incredible trust in one another, and their artistry was beautifully synchronised with and complemented by the Baroque music and the soaring soprano voices.

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Circa artists in English Baroque. Photographed by Steven Godbee.

English Baroque was a busy stage in perfect balance. The circus, music, and vocals all brought their unique flavour to the production, but none overpowered the others and, despite the many layers of action on stage, I felt that I fully enjoyed all of it and didn’t miss out on anything.

The QPAC Concert Hall was filled with audible gasps of amazement, murmurs of admiration, and spontaneous applause throughout, and the evening finished with an enthusiastic and well-deserved standing ovation. It is always such a joy to see artists perform when they seem to be genuinely enjoying themselves as well, and that was the feeling I was left with. English Baroque was truly a joyous and exhilarating performance to witness.

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The cast of English Baroque. Photographed by Steven Godbee.
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