When was the last time you saw a man juggle chainsaws? Or saw a woman slide upside-down more than 20 feet and dead-stop inches from a spinal injury? If you’re lucky, it was this past weekend, where Cirkus Cirkör’s deeply strange, hugely entertaining Wear it like a crown made a stop at the BAM. The troupe’s anticipated return rides the still-fresh buzz of its 2009 Next Wave piece, Inside Out. Crown is the third in a series of pieces centered on the human body, the first being 99% unknown, wherein the performers hitched a ride on cells and neurons. Inside Out handled the heart, and crown makes the final stop at the divide between the left and right hemispheres of the brain.
Cirkus’ pieces are explorations — this series in particular frames the search for self and its world of acts and illusions in the rush of blood through the heart, or the path of a message to a nerve ending, or the struggle for order. In Wear it like a crown, six performers continue to rail against the chaos in their brains, and fight for order, or fight against forces that would lock them down. “Everything is a risk, or maybe a possibility,” a man mumbles, and it’s too early on to know that he believes it.
Risks look like risks before we, the audience, settle into Cirkus Cirkör’s world. Part of the thrill of a show like this one is learning to trust the performers. It’s not every day we see intentional danger, and while we know that no one on that stage would take any of the show’s multiple risks without confidence, our electric worry holds us to our seats. They know this, and revel in it. A series of charmingly demented pre-show clips suggest—in graphic animation—exactly why flash photography is a no-no (a side note: maybe the residual shock will finally teach audiences to turn off their ringers). They warm us up with clowning, or simple versions of their acts—you have to crawl before you can juggle those saws, as they say. But when they let go, crown becomes a dizzying spectacle, grounded by the commitment of those six performers.
Nouveau cirque troupes like Cirque Éloize, Cirque du Soleil, and their ilk work by fortifying the traditional circus format with grand stories, more thematic weight, music, and elaborate technical elements. And while Cirkus Cirkör includes these too, crown’s efforts in that arena feel almost secondary. This is not at all to say that they are not appreciated, or that they do not add legitimate weight to the piece. Director Tilde Björfors has been quoted as saying he is motivated by a desire to change the world—there’s definitely been some serious thinking in the development stages.
But frankly, all of the contemplative stuff pales in comparison to Wear it like a crown’s obvious devotion to the skills and showmanship of its six artists. They are Henrik Agger (Wizard of Wonder), Louise Bjurholm (Miraculous and Supernatural), David Eriksson (Marvel of the Century), Fofo Rakez (Wild, Weird, and Wonderful), Jesper Nikolajeff (Nerves of Steel), and Anna Lagerkvist (Mistress of Mayhem). Multi-hyphenates all, they are dancers and acrobats and jugglers and knife-throwers and acrobats. They are a fearless lot, and a deep passion for their arts is apparent in their joyously exhilarating performances.