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Santa Ana Sites Brings Circa Contemporary Circus to Orange County

There are some things in our own livable experiences that can be difficult to put into words — some relationships, some feelings, some monumentally impactful moments in our lives that remain untethered from verbal descriptions or explanations. There are some things that can only be represented through the expression of movement. Very few contemporary dance groups are able to combine the poetry of modern dance with the physicality of real-life emotions and relationships in a meaningful way, but Circa Contemporary Circus does.

Orange County was lucky enough to get a chance to experience Circa just days ago with their U.S. premiere of What Will Have Been, which rattled the O.C. art scene on May 30 and May 31 at the Yost Theater, thanks to Santa Ana Sites.

“There’s the very visceral, physical theater approach with Circa,” Allen Moon, co-founder of Santa Ana Sites said. “I think especially with What Will Have Been, but I think also through all of the work, there is a humanity within it, an exploration of relationships between people that can sometimes be more powerfully said through physical action rather than written word or verbalized word.”

(Andy Phillipson)

Brisbane, Australia-based Circa is one of the world’s leading performance companies. Since 2004, they have performed in over 40 countries to an audience of over 1 million people. This performance group is at the forefront of the new wave of contemporary circus — combining dance and circus-style stunts to create brilliant works of art that connect to people’s emotions and experiences. Contemporary circus is a misleading phrase to describe this type of performance for most people. Contemporary circus has pioneered a particular type of movement-based performance that blends the visual language of traditional dance and the physicality of the circus’ performative stunts. The extreme physicality inherent in this type of performance can create powerful and moving experiences. Circa pushes the boundaries of this art form, blurring the lines between movement, dance, theatre and circus, and it leads the way with a diverse range of thrilling creations that help people connect with their own experience in their bodies and in their lives.

“[Yaron] Lifschitz [the artistic director and CEO of Circa] works in a grand ballet medium, utilizing the circus language and opera medium,” Moon explains. “He creates artful modern dance utilizing circus language or even a piece of theater utilizing a circus language. The circus is the means to the end, rather than the end in [of] the art itself, which I find far more interesting than large scale cirque productions. I think it’s a developing and maturing medium for the contemporary performing arts; a fine arts circus.

Santa Ana Sites, a young staple organization in Santa Ana creates different high-end pop-up events — concerts, performances, plays and creative productions — in non-traditional spaces all over the city. SAS has created a platform for experimental musicians, dance troupes and theatrical productions to participate in non-traditional events and engage the creative community of Santa Ana and the larger OC area to consider a wider scope of performing arts, dance and music. Founded by Moon and John Spiak, SAS has been revitalizing the Orange County art scene over the last six years with fascinating new art of the highest caliber from emerging artists, dancers, creators and musicians.

(Andy Phillipson)

One major component of SAS’s success is access — the ticket prices are always kept low and the venues are local spots in the downtown area that are easy to get to. The acts that are highlighted with SAS programming range in style, aesthetic, sound and theme, but they are always of the highest caliber and often brought in from all over the world. It’s the type of act you would expect to see at Segerstrom Center or at the Musco Center, but brought into a more approachable venue for an intimate gathering that is available to anybody. The energy of the SAS events consistently remains intimate and high quality; each event is carefully crafted to offer and the best possible experience for viewers while still remaining true to its approachable DIY style.

Another key component of SAS’s success in the last six-plus years has been its selection of artists to present in its events. Each SAS event is carefully constructed, planned, and chosen to engage the community of Orange County in a new and interesting way. With great events in its wake — including The National Theater of Scotland, DakhaBrakha, Roomful of Teeth, Troker, Bang On A Can All Stars, Maya Beiser, Abbey Theater, Ate9 Dance Company, Pacific Symphony and wild Up, among others, SAS has an innate talent for finding and supporting unique and high-quality creators, giving the artistic community of OC an opportunity to explore alternative or non-traditional fine art and performance it might not otherwise have ever had to the chance to experience.

The What Will Have Been Circa performances at the Yost theater was event number 24 for SAS, which hosted its first event in March 2013. Created by Circa’s artistic Director and CEO Lifschitz with members of the Circa ensemble, the performance featured three performers — Hamish McCourty, Daniel O’Brien and Kimberly O’Brien — and was accompanied on stage by a live violinist for some acts. The whole event included several acts with different musical components, including the music of Bach, spine-tingling electronica, 1970s folk and a composition by Philip Glass.

“Yaron was trained in theater,” Moon said. “He has a very astute musical palette as well, and a connection to the understanding of classical music. So, he can make work that works with — or becomes parallel to — classical or contemporary music.”

The production had a hypnotic push-and-pull in symbolic subjects from act to act — tugging on our heartstrings as they swayed back and forth between love and loss, friendship and competition, and co-dependence and independence. Each act was carefully and beautifully performed with such dedication to detail, the humanity of its performers shined brightly in every lift, push and glance.