From an acrobatic illustration of oppression and the seven deadly sins to a plea to preserve the safety of the city’s people of color, Charlotte circus arts ensemble the Nouveau Sud Project has never shied away from controversy. With their newest performance, REVÓL: The Story of a Flag, going up at the Booth Playhouse August 21, 22 and 23, the troupe’s aerialists and acrobats may be tackling their most difficult subject to date.
Though it is never actually seen in the show, REVÓL’s titular flag is the Confederate stars and bars, to some a symbol of exclusively white Southern pride, to many more the bloodstained banner of toxic racism. The trick, says show co-creator and co-director Houston Odum, is to turn this heavy topic into a contemporary and energetic circus arts performance.
“The essential idea is to address the issues around the Confederate flag in our society,” says Odum, ”how it affects us in the present and the future, and how we can move forward.”
The 19-year-old student at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts at Winston-Salem shares directing duties for the production with Nouveau Sud founder and director Carlos Alexis Cruz. Intriguingly, the actual flag and images of the Confederate symbol will never be seen onstage. Instead, the audience will be treated to a multi-faceted narrative that follows multiple characters across several decades, all told through the movement, acrobatics, costumes and props of physical theater.
“We have two musicians and 10 different performers who play more than 10 characters,” Odum says. The characters portrayed by the cast include The Flag, The Spirit of the Flag and Vent de Changement, which is French for “Winds of Change,” he continues. Perhaps the most unusual character is one named Heather. She’s the only performer in the show that is not an acrobat.
“Heather is an homage to the mainstream and the media, [and] the ways they can be negative,” Odum explains “It’s a look at social media and the ways that it has taken over our society.” To illustrate Odum’s concerns, by show’s end Heather stalks the stage with a cathode-ray tube TV for a head, blind and unable to connect with others.
All these characters and more will be portrayed in nine scenes comprised of acrobatic acts ranging from traditional circus disciplines like juggling and aerial straps to newer and more unique disciplines such as aerial cube and B-boy.
“Aerial cube is a discipline that we’ve never done before as a company,” Houston says “It’s a relatively new apparatus in the circus industry [that] hasn’t been explored in the ways we are exploring it.” The 3-by-3-foot steel cube will be suspended from the ceiling to spin with the performer inside, Houston continues.
The cube will be flanked by two trapeze artists, so the audience will be watching three aerialists at once. As for B-boy performers, they’re a Nouveau Sud Project staple, Houston explains. In lieu of clowns, B-boys interact with the audience in a fun and energetic way, releasing the tension that tends to build during the aerialists’ and acrobats’ breathtaking feats of derring do.
If the audience leaves each performance not sure what they’ve seen, that’s fine with Houston. He hopes that REVÓL’s spectacle and excitement will contain a challenge.
“I would like that every single person could find something meaningful for them,” Houston says. “We want to create a beautiful experience for people but I also want this show to remain in their brains after they leave. I hope it’s something they can’t forget.”