Circa: Depart (Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park)

“We stand here on the cusp of where the living and the dead meet.”
– Yaron Lifschitz, Director –


Haunting sights and sounds will seduce you down a path punctuated by unexpected encounters as you weave through the space between life and death in this East End cemetery… So reads the short blurb on the LIFT festival website, leaving the mind of the viewer very much open as they head into the shadowy forest, where the graves underfoot outnumber those still alive in the borough. To me, Depart spoke less of life and death, and more about the limits of the human body and the unpredictability of our path through life, no matter how much we rehearse or plan. It spoke of trust: trust in your own body, trust in your partner and colleagues, trust in strangers, friends, the audience. The performers placed an immense amount of trust in their natural surroundings, in the strength of the trees and the limits of their own bodies. Limits, it must be said, that did not seem to exist. A project of collaboration on an immense scale, Depart combines all of the things which make us most aware of our existence. Dancers, gymnasts, and actors performing feats which no human should ever be able to do. A soundscape built from the crunch of the leaves underfoot, the rumble of the regular trains in the distance, spooky choral music composed from gravestone inscriptions, new-age electronic music, birdsong, and the controlled breaths of the performers. Like many immersive performances, Depart offers viewers the opportunity to interpret and experience the show in a very visceral and personal way.

13445251_1224716104207485_2853090400440188998_n[Nicole Faubert | Photo credit: Tristram Kenton]

As the evening grew darker and the path muddier, it became increasingly difficult to navigate the way. It occurred to me as I slid along the path, brushing branches out of my way and trying not to hold up the group, that this could be interpreted as a strong metaphor for leaving university and being thrown into adulthood, slipping along a path you aren’t sure you have any business being on. Our guides were as silent and respectful as the audience, leading the way only with a spooky gesture of the arm. However, it became clear about halfway through that the guides had not been expecting so many viewers, and began to hurry us along. Being a stickler for details, it is always the seemingly insignificant things that spoil performances for me. Walking through such an enchanting space and one that required a certain degree of sensitivity for the dead, being rushed through by guides who adopted a sort of ‘character’ to try and speed us up somewhat tainted the experience. Even more so, when one of the guides broke this ‘character’ to snap at her colleague for not hurrying audience through fast enough, the magic of the evening was broken for a moment and it no longer felt like the space belonged to the dead, but rather to the mechanics of a performance company.

5099[Photo credit: Tristram Kenton]

The segment I found most enchanting was a sequence between two men who demonstrated incredible physical strength and body control using a vertical pole on a raised platform. They moved seamlessly around and through one another, performing feats that seemed simultaneously simple and utterly impossible. This segment was incredibly moving. At the risk of sounding like the pretentious drama student I’ve always feared becoming, this portion of the performance expressed with exceptional aesthetic beauty the push and pull of relationships, playing with notions of connection and contact that spoke volumes even without dialogue.

5477[The finale | Photo credit: Tristram Kenton]

The only words I have to describe the performance finale are: No human should be able to do that with their body. I think it is a universal truth that the things that gymnasts and circus performers are capable of defy all logic, and I was both mesmerised and filled with feelings of complete inadequacy whilst watching them. I can’t even do the splits.

Despite the various unpredictable downfalls of performing outside and the questionable ethics of performing on a gravesite, this production brought together the talent and voice of a variety of different performers, both local and global. Combining Australia’s award-winning circus troupe with London’s leading circus and dance institutions and Tower Hamlets choirs was a stroke of genius. The power of creative collaboration shone through in every aspect of Depart.

Depart (Lift Festival 2016)
Tower Hamlets Cemetary Park until 26 June 2016
Directed by Yaron Lifschitz
A production by Circa, in collaboration with National Centre for Circus Arts and Central School of Ballet
Tickets available:

[Cover photo by John Angerson]

Thank you to Theatre Bloggers for giving me this opportunity –


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