by John Lombard
The Works Entertainment
Canberra Theatre, 11 December (on until 21 December)
After plundering big top nostalgia with the retro Circus 1903, The Works Entertainment (established by Simon Painter and Tim Lawson) reaches for the space age in this compilation of gravity-defying circus acts.
The astronaut-suited Sal the Clown opened the show by leading the audience in droning the pounding theme of 2001: A Space Odyssey, playfully coaxing a mood of thrilled wonder for the acrobatic and gymnastic feats to come.
A UFO lighting rig, tractor beams of coloured light, silver mod costumes, cataclysmic music and visual cues from movies like The Right Stuff, Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind framed the acts as a space program stabbing at the stars.
Most of the acts toyed with gravity, whether Oleg Spigin doing a headstand on a trapeze, the roller skate duo Evgenii Viktorovich and Natalia Viktorovna spinning in precarious orbit, or the trio of Dmitrii Feliksovich and Denis and Nikolai Alexandrovich using a teeterboard for dizzying bounds and flips.
In another impressive routine, the pair Dmitry Makrushin & Oleg Bespalov fused a strong man act with balance gymnastics for gimmick-free but captivating physical spectacle.
As thrilling as these acts were, a comparatively straightforward hoop diving act by Nicholas-Yang Wang and Shengpeng Nie did the most to rouse the audience, with their dynamic panache providing the show with a stirring high-note finale.
On opening night the final challenging leap narrowly failed, making the second and successful attempt resoundingly satisfying.
The shambling entertainer Tapeface joined Sal the Clown in satisfying comic interludes that dragged audience members up onto the stage, with Tapeface’s anarchic and playful subversion of everyday objects a good balance against Sal’s gleeful musicality.
Cirque Stratosphere has immaculate production design, an impressive range of gasp-drawing acts, and joyful comedy. It aims high, and sticks the landing.