Sxip Shirley, all in white with hints of wings fluttering on his shoulders, would have you believe he is Angelic. But as the tuba bellows, his beat-boxing morphs into something quite demonic. It is an eerie spectacle as his otherworldly growls and moans manipulate contortionist Aurelien Oudot into an array of unnatural poses. This is the opening that sets the tone for what is to be an impressive performance of unearthly feats. Set in the fantastical borderland of Heaven and Hell, Limbo draws on a century’s worth of circus to blend a dazzling array of acts from acrobatics to dance to burlesque into a confident, sexy and eerie show.

Sword swallowing, fire bending, vintage beauty Heather Holliday, all in red, teases from the flames of hell and then above, aerialist Evelyne Allard ascends heavenward in her hoop, her blonde hair dangling as she twists and turns. The fluidity of gravity-defying pole master Mikael Bres makes his superhuman feats seem almost ethereal. Tossing a feather from atop his pole, Bres caught the audience’s collective breath as he descended at breakneck speed to catch himself, and the feather, inches before impact. Hand balancer Danik Abishev elicited similar gasps as he broke free from a prison of poles by leaping single-handedly from perch to perch, and an airborne ballet—five bodies strapped atop long, swaying poles—was a haunting scene like I’ve never seen before. These impressive acrobatics were interspersed with teasing burlesque or high energy dance, such as tap dancer and acrobat Hilton Denis’ devilish routine, which despite their energy, could have been shorter.

The core of the show is Shirley’s eclectic compositions that flirt between hip-hop, banjo folk, indie pop and brass. Shirley and his band, including Grant Arthur and Mick Sturart, utilise a range of ‘re-imagined instruments’ such as industrial flutes and a regurgitated music box, found objects like glass bowls and marbles as well as the very tools and bodies of the performers, to create an evocative and atmospheric blend of sound. The Aurora Speigletent with its high top and art deco windows is as much a character in this Vaudevillian landscape as the performers, despite the hard wooden seats and overzealous air-conditioning. But the discomfort is worth it. Limbo is extraordinary.


This review originally appeared in Dirt & Candy