Na Djinang Circus’s Common Dissonance unsettles ways of seeing with uncommon flair

Na Djinang Circus’s Common Dissonance unsettles ways of seeing with uncommon flair

Through a versatile circus and dance production that is simultaneously playful and tear-jerking, Green Room Award nominee Common Dissonance tumbles contemporary Australian reasoning on its head. (Image supplied by Harley Mann)

By Anisha Pillarisetty | @nishkinsilk 

Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu’s “Mala Rrakala” plays through a speaker as the audience filters in and dim, purplish lighting pools on the seemingly innocuous set of Na Djinang Circus’s Common Dissonance. Intentional or not, Gurrumul’s soulful strumming is a harbinger of the reach of this production – echoing around and beyond the sunken stage, and unravelling modes of connection, knowing and being.

Deftly blurring the edges between circus and dance, the performing duo draw the audience in with emotive, intimate theatre. In a clever touch towards the beginning, the setting up of the trapeze is incorporated into the performance, drawing attention to the flux of body, agency and props. 

Although props are minimal, they are used with striking effect to allude to the vast themes – the bowl of water at one corner of the stage is at once a river and a painter’s solvent; a paper partition in the opposite corner transforms into a canvas; and a string is used to draw out and cut the tension. 

Speaking of strings (and tension), the soundtrack juxtaposes playful plucking, orchestral solos, and heart-thumping percussion with industrial acoustics – complementing the fracturing and jarring of movement, as the performers unsettle the audience and lull them back in with visceral physicality and poetic grace.

Isabelle Champagne-Chittick performing in Common Dissonance. (Image supplied by Harley Mann)

Although the show is not short of aerial feats, light and shadow are used in creative ways to draw attention to the ground – a reminder of the land and place the audience occupy. The use of bright floor lighting at key points in the production emphasises the incongruence in the transitions from playful and lyrical to jolting and conflicted. 

In this way, the performance uncovers relationships to place through evocative and multi-faceted choreography – from Wiradjuri performer David Singh’s fluid solo where the water on his body leaves subtle traces on the floor, to performer Isabelle Champagne-Chittick smearing Singh’s (and her own) body with paint (which is simultaneously transferred to the floor in a brilliantly executed crescendo). This juxtaposition of indelible and transient movement is woven throughout the show, culminating in a startlingly poignant mix of origami and circus. 

For a performance that relies ostensibly on the muscle-trembling collaboration of the two performers, it is no mean feat to also tug at the heartstrings. With a tear-jerking flourish, Common Dissonance circles back and challenges the notion of where things end – leaving the audience reeling in the unravelling, fragmented realities that await outside the tent. 

Na Djinang Circus’s Common Dissonance is showing at Gluttony as part of the 2022 Adelaide Fringe until Sunday, March 6. 

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