“Cali es Cali, y lo demas es loma!” – Cali is Cali, and the rest is mountains.
This is what anyone from the dangerous and vibrant city of Cali, Colombia, will tell you about their hometown.
A small piece of this gritty, musical capital of Colombia came to this year’s Sydney Festival in the form of contemporary circus group Circolombia, performing their show Urban.
The unorthodox and explosive show combines traditional and contemporary Colombian rhythms, dance and acrobatics to tell the story of a city that despite its downtrodden urban life never fails to “reach the stars”, in the words of the dancers.
Circolombia’s performance isn’t the circus show one might expect. This show is powerful, rough and wild. The high voltage acrobatics are more reminiscent of gang confrontations on the dangerous streets of Cali than a graceful trapeze show. The performers dance, sing, tightrope walk and fly around the stage, all without a safety net.
On a stage littered with industrial oil containers and a spider web of elastic tightropes, a projected video showing fragments of life in Cali creates an energy-charged yet genuine atmosphere.
The accompanying music was one of the greatest elements of Urban, combining traditional Cumbia rhythms with hip hop to provide a soundtrack with attitude. Despite the obvious confidence of the dancers, the 14 performers, aged between 17 and 23 sang lyrics about struggle and perseverance, highlighting that even for those who manage to achieve fame and prestige, humility must always prevail.
Thanks to an invitation from both the Sydney Festival and Project Australia, the troupe has travelled a long way to represent the reality and many contrasts of the city of Cali.
Circolombia’s ambition and vitality is something worth admiring. The liberating and joyful artistry of these young performers is particularly impressive in light of the fractured society where they have grown up. It is a reminder of the talent that exists in developing countries like Colombia, a place where beauty is often forgotten or ignored.
Urban is a 70-minute journey to Colombia: it will intimidate you, and then give you goose bumps, but it’s one hell of a ride.