I like modern circus. I like Philip Glass. I don’t particularly like opera, but I’m willing to listen to it if I get circus and Philip Glass to compensate.

We saw Philip Glass’ opera Satyagraha at Folkoperan. They combined the opera with a circus performance by Cirkus Cirkör. A surprising combination that worked surprisingly well: the two complemented each other, and the combination never felt forced. Performances of minimalist music can benefit some kind of visual complement – I’m thinking of Koyaanisqatsi for example.

Satyagraha deals with the early life of Mahatma Gandhi and the beginnings of his theory of non-violent resistance. Each circus act fit into the story and illustrated each scene much more tangibly than the music could possibly do. Balancing on a tightrope to symbolize passage through an annoyed crowd. a teeterboard act to illustrate a battle, etc.

Even so the performance was relatively… vague. Not concrete. It consisted not so much of events from those years in Gandhi’s life, as interpretations of feelings and associations around those events.

I wonder how much sense the opera would even make on its own. Probably not much at all, given that it is in sanskrit. But then again I don’t suppose “sense” is what opera-goers want and expect from opera performances.

Threads, nets and knitting have been recurring themes in Cirkus Cirkör’s performances in recent years, and they were part of this performance as well. It sounds gimmicky but again it worked really well.

The final scene initially made no sense to me but made a strong impression. Six actors walked in a circle, taking turns to push a giant wheel, thereby winding rope on it. A seventh actor guided the rope. It went on for a long time. Combined with the music, which for this scene was particularly minimalistic, the effect was hypnotic. I thought it mostly symbolic. Only later did I connect this wheel to the spinning wheel on India’s flag, and learn that spinning was an important part of Gandhi’s later politics in India.

The opera on its own would probably not have been enough to keep me interested for 2+ hours, and the circus acts were not impressive enough to fill a whole evening either. But the two together made for an interesting and memorable performance.