As a strange school punishment in the 1960s, my mother was once made to write an essay on The Inside Of A Ping Pong Ball. Russian circus troupe Upsala have taken the abstract possibilities inherent in this concept further, and translated them to the stage. Huge kudos to director Larisa Afanasieva, not just for creating a well-rounded visual and sonic cohesion to the show, but also for her part in co-founding the 17-year-old social enterprise from which the 10 performers are drawn. Strands of the company's work include training street children, disabled youngsters and young offenders, and those selected for this project are experiencing international exchange for the first time.
In the UK, certain preconceptions are often attached to youth performance, but the acrobatic skills of this troupe are unquestionable. Some of the cast have more stage presence and technical ability than others, but the sophistication of the musical accompaniment raises the show to a higher level. Composer Dmitry Maximachev (who also performs live with cellist Natalia Nazarova) builds a beautiful soundscape of interactive looping and electronic manipulation while onstage. Round white objects are manipulated more physically. A cyr wheel. Hula hoops. Drums. A giant crashmat and scores of the eponymous ping-pong balls magically appearing and disappearing.
Ensemble physical theatre choreographies are still basic, but concepts of scene segments are lovely and well executed with delightful use of lo-fi special effects that even garner their own applause. The Circus Hub is not the only place to see interesting international circus theatre explorations this month.