Do Jump! through June 30
Do Jump's latest project, Now! features juggling, trapeze swinging, ceiling climbing, and a number of impressive special effects. The result plays like a circus on stage, a mish mash of impressive physical stunts without a thread to connect them, outside of the fact that they are impressive. Now! bills itself as being an exploration of life in the present moment, but such a premise is clearly vague and open to endless physical interpretation. There are actually no ideas in this show that induce a feeling of an exploration taking place, other than the ideas that accompany the expression of sheer physical prowess. Now! is pure, unadulterated spectacle.
Spectacle is a perfectly acceptable form of entertainment. Humans love to watch things blow up, they love to watch people risking their lives, and they love to watch things that are beautiful. We all yearn to be awestruck, and spectacle is the most direct and efficient way of creating awe. To pull off pure spectacle in this day and age, however (particularly when there are no pyrotechnics or dangerous animals involved), an individual and/or company must overwhelm with the size and outrageousness of their spectacle, building each act or stunt off the one preceding, topping themselves again and again until the very idea of topping seems impossible, and then topping themselves again.
For being in Portland, a town with limited theater space and funding, Do Jump! succeeds in the size department fairly well. Their home, the Echo Theatre, looks humble on the outside, but is actually quite cavernous on the inside, not to mention versatile. The cast members of Do Jump! lower from the ceiling, hurtle about on the aforementioned trapezes, and even dodge giant playing cards that are projected up on a screen like holograms. For all intents and purposes, Do Jump! has the resources, financial backing, and talent of a major player in the field of spectacle. Unfortunately, Now! does not capitalize on the powerful possibilities latent in both the company and their space.
Now! starts off promisingly enough, with a female acrobat climbing along the ceiling out over the audience and into an opening in the ceiling. The effect is exhiliarating. She hangs high over the crowd, attached to the roof by nothing but her hands and legs, with no safety net. If she falls, she will take not only herself on a journey to the hospital or worse, but the handful of innocent viewers whom she happens to fall on. It is a stunt beautiful in its simplicity and powerful enough to be hard to top. Now! never really does top it. Its plethora of visual effects are more extravagant, but lack any sort of tension dramatic or otherwise. This could be because Now! makes no effort to tell a story or connect its scenes in any way, or it could just be because its stunts lack that overwhelming zaniness that is so key for high quality spectacle.
Now! just feels tired somehow, despite the immense talents of its cast. The juggling in the show is stellar. First three balls, then five, and finally seven balls are juggled at once, but in the end that's all it is: juggling balls. The trapeze artistry is equally impressive, but in the end, like the juggling, is merely people dangling from trapezes. The evening almost feels like a talent show, with performers taking turns showing off the skills they have spent their whole lives perfecting in hopes of winning a medal. I imagine that Do Jump! knows this, since showing off specific talents is the essence of spectacle, and since they have chosen spectacle as their main focus. But they are going to need to add some new dimensions to their barrage of flips, dangles, and throws before it reaches the level of awe inducement that only true spectacle can. JUSTIN SANDERS