With the same director, same performers, and some of the same tricks, Canto nonetheless distinguishes itself from NoFit State's tabú as a warmer and wittier production—thrown together with greater haste yet more robust in the face of its own weaknesses; diffuse and open-ended but content to be so. The setting that emerges, partway, from the narration and dialogue is an old train station, while without establishing a specific era a recognisable time is evoked: it's Sunday; it's afternoon; it's the past, perhaps a generation ago.
Characters float by. The buff and ever-shirtless cradle base Petri Ekqvist does a fine impression of a vain bodybuilder addicted to (flexing a muscle here) 'the feeling of Pump', while his cradle routine with Kadja Karjalainen hits different (comedic, charming) notes to the tabú equivalent that left me feeling slimed over; Gareth Jones provides live accordion music and proves himself a naturally engaging narrator in his opening monologue; clown Marcella Manzilli—who in tabú competed with the aerial and was always somewhere on the periphery of vision, even for people who didn't, like me, ungraciously, turn away—is consistently amazed by the contents of her handbag.
There's something about the production that hits the right notes. Proximity is important—in the Riverfront's small studio the audience are under and around the flying rig, able to hear the catches, never more than a short distance away (for the final scene, a long flying sequence, the audience is led up onto a balcony, at a height with or slightly above the action)—and maybe as well the raw mathematics of ratio come into play: there are enough performers and few enough audience members that the space between is forgettably small. But I think, aside from the thrill of the trick, the immediacy of the physical action lies at the heart of the piece in exerting a constant pull against its airier tendencies—bringing it down to earth, essentially—and establishing what in circus is a rare thing: audience rapport.
Not everything comes off. There are aspects of the production's technical stage management that the company will probably want to sharpen, and a sweet final coda on the importance of saying goodbye feels like the end but gets followed by an enthusiastic Say Yes sequence that doesn't so closely fit the mood of the piece. Still, it was a quick build, with rigging and rehearsals going to the wire, and the night of the first performance Firenza was obviously still on the job, pacing constantly around the studio perimeter as if dissatisfied not with the production but with the allowable angles of scrutiny in the context of a public performance—I remember thinking very clearly that she was probably irritated not to be able to levitate. Quite where Canto goes from here, and how it develops when expansiveness and imperfection are so much a part of its language remains to be seen, but it is worth seeing. Plans are to tour a reworked version in 2011.