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BWW Review: Cirkus Cirkör's LIMITS at the Kennedy Center

BWW Review: Cirkus Cirkör's LIMITS at the Kennedy Center

Those advocating a big border wall to keep out imagined hordes of asylum seekers are overlooking the abilities of one indefatigable group they would fail to keep out: circus performers.

With teeterboards, sway poles, trampolines and sheer imagination, they'd transcend any barrier before them, and that's the point of "Limits," the production by the Swedish group Cirkus Cirkör.

Immigration, borders and migratory movements are very much the point of the show, currently In a three day stint at the Kennedy Center, right in the midst of our national conversation about a declared emergency.

Conceived in 2015, the humanitarian crisis depicted in "Limits" isn't about the U.S./Mexican border, but about the migration that was occurring in Europe of families leaving war zones and corralled into holding camps - if they survived treacherous trips across the Mediterranean in overcrowded boats.

So the first scene in "Limits," is in many ways the most striking: atop a fabric representing waves of the sea, a woman descends from a line above. Pulled back up, into another wave of fabric cut with a hole, we only see her legs kicking. And there is the odd picture before us in director's Tilde Bjöfors' vision (and a set devised by her and three others): Peering into a side view of the ocean, the struggles of a hopeful immigrant kicking below the surface, until she falls deep into it, vividly representing another of the tens of thousands of drowning victims - the exact statistics of which are flashed onto the screen.

But this is the circus?

No, it's Cirkus Cirkör, a part of the Cirque Nouveau movement that brings the art of the circus into the 21st century leaving behind performing animals, big tops, rings and even clowns, as such. And for those who connect to this development mainly through the work of Cirque du Soleil, this version is much more basic, without the color, pomp, splendor or sparkle. Its minimalist costumes are almost generic; its presentation more straightforward.

And that only makes the skills of the handful of performers all the more direct in acrobatics that include favorite things like high-flying teeterboard action, balancing on boards and each other, and trampoline mastery.

Some of these are better than others in helping convey the central messages. At one point, the audience is asked to stand with feet close together and feel how one has to move to stay balanced to prove their point that maybe people have to move around the planet for the world to be balanced.

Those who come just for the circus tricks won't be disappointed - they're consistently amusing and often spectacular. But the social messages keep being drilled throughout.

Peter Åberg serves as the closest thing to a clown or host, by doing an amusing Rubik's Cube solution at the end of the intermission while blindfolded. But he also spends a lot of time juggling and setting up the acrobatic moves of Saara Ahola, whose most impressive moves come in aerial segments that come close to pure dance expression.

Sarah Lett's work spinning on a large aluminum hoop called the Cyr Wheel may have had the least to do with the migration crisis, but it was striking to watch.

And Oscar Karlsson and Nilas Kronlid were quite a pair on the teeterboards, flying so high that the light rigging above had to be designed so they wouldn't soar into it.

That didn't have much to do with borders either, but their flying onto a trampoline from a wall had some resonance with the issue.

Throughout, the evocative music came from pre-taped and live performances by Samuel "LoopTok" Långbacka, whose name sort of describes his musical approach, that sometimes included other circus performers on vocals and percussion.

With narration derived from interviews from two immigrants from Syria and Afghanistan, the show certainly had more depth than the average circus, and was certainly relevant in a time when immigration reform and walls are front and center in the news here.

And though the show is about as far away from the cotton candy as one could get, the emphasis on raw circus skills are effective in driving the message.

Running time: About two hours and 15 minutes, including one 25-minute intermission.

Photo credit: Cirkus Cirkör's "Limits" at the Kennedy Center. Photo by Mats Backer.

"Cirkus Cirkör: Limits" continues through March 9 at the Kennedy Center's Eisenhower Theatre. Tickets: 202-467-4600 or online.

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From This Author - Roger Catlin