Il Ritorno blends the physical spectacle of circus and the majesty of opera in a 75-minute retelling of Monteverdi’s Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria.
There can be no doubt about the brilliance of the Circa ensemble. They flawlessly demonstrate numerous forms of circus, including trapeze, aerials, corde lisse, acrobatics, gymnastics, tumbling, and contortion, and pull it off each time with miraculous control.
They throw bodies across the stage; use their bodies as props; walk on the knuckles of their feet; and even suspend a performer in air, by her legs, as she does the splits. It’s dynamic, beautifully choreographed, and stunning to see the strength, flexibility, and potential of the human body.
The circus performance complements the mood of the baroque operatic music, which is equally divine. Monteverdi, Mahler, what’s not to like? The singers are in fine voice (though I would’ve preferred to hear them without the mics and amplification), but it’s not sung in English and there are no surtitles to translate. Some people will love this lack of context, which allows the audience to infer and interpret freely; others may find it jarring and disorienting.
The narrative follows that of Ulysses returning to his wife Penelope after the Trojan War, experienced through the lens of Primo Levi’s post-WW2, post-holocaust European displacement. But it may be difficult to understand exactly what’s going on. There does seem to be a narrative and sequence of events taking place – as sign-posted by projected words when each new chapter (or ‘book’) begins – but much of it is left open to interpretation. Perhaps if a story or chronology were not implied, the audience could truly interpret the performance freely.
If you’re the kind of person who looks at abstract art and loves deconstructing meaning, then you’ll love the loose narrative of Il Ritorno. If you’re the kind of person that needs to be rooted in narrative and story, then you may experience some frustration, in which case a cursory understanding of Homer’s Odyssey would suffice; otherwise, this Ulysses may seem less like Homer’s epic poem and more like the Joycean stream of consciousness.
There’s a lot to love here. The physicality, the beauty of human movement, and the music. Something will entice you, whatever your tastes.
Ara Sarafian is a writer and editor. He’s been published in The Lifted Brow, Kill Your Darlings and The Conversation. He works as an online editor for the ABC.
Il Ritorno runs 17–20 August 2016 at Arts Centre, Melbourne. Visit the Arts Centre website to book tickets. The venue is wheelchair accessible.