The Queensland premiere of Circa’s Leviathan – which had its world premiere at this year’s Perth Festival – sees Brisbane acrobats and dancers join the Circa ensemble to deliver a visceral celebration of human connection during a time of unprecedented disconnect.

Leviathan. Photo © Johannes Reinhart

Directed by Circa CEO and Artistic Director Yaron Lifschitz, 36 performers take to the stage in Leviathan, an ambitious exploration of form and a deeply connected and human piece of work. Leviathan feels especially poignant in this present moment, as our global community faces major health, social, and economic challenges, and seems to sit at a crossroads of many uncertainties.

The name of the work is derived from the book of the same name by Thomas Hobbes, who in turn took the title from the Book of Job. Hobbes uses the biblical sea monster as a metaphor for perfect government – the Leviathan comes into being when a commonwealth is established through social contract between a sovereign leader granted absolute authority and the individuals that empower them to lead. The production is filled with hope, focusing on the power of the collective and the greater good that can be achieved through cohesion and collaboration, when a community of individuals becomes larger and more powerful than the sum of its parts.

Leviathan. Photo © Johannes Reinhart

Part circus and part contemporary dance, Leviathan swings between intensely focused, interconnected duos and trios and intricately choreographed group work, employing seemingly endless arrangements of the 36 performers. From gravity-defying stunts and frenzied movement to moments of breathless balance and exquisite stillness, the work explores the power of the whole but also takes care to highlight each individual artist. The use of film projections suggests surveillance concerns and draws the audience into a new dimension, quite literally presenting a new perspective on the performance.

The ensemble, which includes performers from QUT Dance and Circa Zoo, Circa’s extension performance program for talented young people, demonstrated incredible strength, skill, and flexibility, performing difficult movements and complex choreography with apparent ease. Although there were moments when their synchronicity faltered, it was mesmerising to see such a large ensemble climbing, crawling, leaping, and tumbling like a single mind in many bodies. Circa’s highly physical, heart-in-mouth aerial and balancing circus feats drew gasps and spontaneous applause, and these were juxtaposed against moments of stillness when a dropped pin would have echoed through the theatre. The young performers certainly held their own among the professional artists and the cohesion and trust within the group was evident. With impeccable dramatic timing, performers created support, a counterbalance, or a leg up just in time, and the motions were so fluid and well-rehearsed as to seem organic.

Leviathan. Photo © Johannes Reinhart

The movement of the artists is integrated with Owen Belton’s raw, evocative composition and this, along with lighting design by Amelia Lever-Davidson, is used to set the tone onstage and to change it abruptly. Set and costume design by Marg Horwell create a clear and familiar visual language, with performers dressed in a variety of activewear and streetwear, although elements of these costumes were sometimes visible while performers were waiting backstage or in the wings. Props are used to great effect, from the enormous industrial grid that performers move over, under, and through while suspended in mid-air, to the joyful pastel party streamers and bright yellow chairs, which are ultimately used to bring the piece full circle.

Well-paced and full of contrasts – movement and stillness, individualism and collectivism, boundaries and freedom – Leviathan is a hopeful and energising production that seeks to examine the endless complexities of human interconnectedness and the interplay of local and global responsibilities, asking us to consider how we define ourselves as individuals and as a society.

Leviathan plays at the Playhouse Theatre, QPAC until September 12