Edinburgh – Still skeptical of the circus as an art form? The Pulse might just change your mind

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Outgoing Edinburgh International Festival director Fergus Linehan has, over the past seven years, overseen something of a transformation of the prestigious arts programme. Under his leadership, the Festival took a decided (and successful) turn towards popular art forms, such as circus performance.

It is therefore fitting that its final program includes The Pulse, an extraordinarily ambitious circus piece for 28 physical artists. Created by Australian company Gravity & Other Myths, the work was originally conceived as a response to the band’s three ensembles grounded by the Covid pandemic.

The Adelaide-based troupe performed in Macro, the free event at Murrayfield Rugby Stadium, which opened the FEI program on August 5. Their contribution to this show – which captivated thousands of spectators – was, in large part, the same performance they are offering at the Playhouse. However, there is much to be gained for an audience that experiences the play in the relative privacy of a traditional theater hall (as opposed to the vast expanse of a national sports arena).

Director Darcy Grant makes fabulous use of the sheer number of performers at his disposal. An early routine gives an amazing taste of the wonders to come. Nine human towers, each composed of three performers, intersect in perfect synchronicity – five walking diagonally, from right to left, across the stage, four in the opposite direction.

At another moment, the interpreter who is holding the young woman on his shoulders at the top of a human pyramid disappears, leaving the woman held by the neck by two of his colleagues. Then suddenly (and breathtakingly) she is let loose, falling, perhaps 15 feet, before being caught by a group of her colleagues at the bottom of the pyramid.

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