An intriguing, quirky, movement and aerial experience, The Insectinside performed by the company of Grounded Aerial with music by Medeski Martin & Wood is a lockdown show to watch. 

Filmed in 360 degrees with the option to watch in 360-view on YouTube or via virtual reality goggles, the show is a fascinating at-home artistic experience. The Insectinside follows an ensemble of insects in a variety of situations from finding a mate to different species’ fight for survival. The ensemble worked well together to evoke the microscopic world of arthropods. Some moved as an ensemble, crawling across the floor. One performer played an antagonizing praying mantis-like creature, traversing the space on stilts.

Grounded Aerial is known for their bungee performances and they did not disappoint. Attached with a harness to the bungee apparatus, ensemble members with draping costumes lunged through the air. Spreading their arms while gliding through the air, their flowing costumes rippling behind them, they looked as though they were flying. This effect was especially successful in the final sequence as a young butterfly-like creature leaps through the air to escape a malicious insect intent on the butterfly’s capture. In an engaging and heart-wrenching sequence, the butterfly sprang towards the camera on her bungee, flapping her costume-wings in a fruitless attempt to evade capture.

A circus performer myself, I was particularly partial to the aerial acts, which ranged from a trio on silks, a dynamic rope performance, and the apparatus most associated with Grounded Aerial: bungee. Many arts organizations have been working hard to innovate in order to deliver the best experience to audience members at home. Grounded Aerial provided an experience that I had not yet had: supplying virtual reality goggles so I could view The Insectinside in a 360 degrees immersive experience. After waiting a couple of days to receive the VR goggles on my doorstep, I eagerly ripped open the package, assembled the goggles easily, and slid my phone into the slot. I selected the “view in virtual reality” option on the Youtube video and sat back in my revolving chair for ease of looking around. 

Photo Credit: Bill Hayward.

The show began with a man walking down the street at night while holding the camera. I looked around at the storefronts and the man himself, eager to see everything I could with the goggles. But as the man walked down the street, the camera jostled up and down, a sensation that, while I was sitting still, made me feel immediately motion sick. While I controlled how I looked around, my body was not controlling the movement of the camera, which created a disjointed feeling in my mind. Eventually, the man arrived at the performance space and set the camera on a stand but by that time, I was too ill to continue. I had to press pause and lay flat on the floor for a while, attempting to regain my bearings.

When I went back to the video, I watched it via Youtube 360 degrees, which allows viewers to move the camera around in the same way that they would turn their head with the VR goggles so I was still able to experience the full venue in 360 degrees. What I noticed as I watched, was that even when the camera was on a tripod, there were times when they made the artistic choice to rotate the camera and suddenly, I would be slid from whatever I was looking at, which was frustrating as a viewer. For me, part of the joy of VR or 360 view is that the viewer gets to control what they are looking at. Whenever the camera would move on its own, it gave me a sense of vertigo, as I was no longer in control. 

While the virtual reality aspect of the performance was a great at-home innovation in theory, I wish they would have placed the camera in one location so that I could control the movement myself. In a couple of scenes where the camera was only in one place and there was a movement happening all around, I very thoroughly enjoyed the experience. 

The cast of The Insectinside. Photo Credit: Bill Hayward.

The biggest highlight of the performance for me was a long sequence that began with an aerial trio wrapped in two white hammock silks that were attached to a bar, rotating slowly in the dim lighting. Evoking imagery of butterflies shedding a chrysalis, the three performers writhed together, twisting into various shapes as they hovered above the floor. By turning around, I could see another performer approach a rope in the semi-darkness. The lights arose on the performer in a vibrant red dress who began her act with a series of inversions to climb the rope. The dynamic act characterized by modernistic sharp angles and flexed feet was thoroughly engaging to watch and provided the most excitement for me throughout the performance. 

While the VR experience was not what I hoped it would be and the camera work for filming in 360 degrees was, at times, frustrating, The Insectinside was still an enjoyable at-home theater experience. As someone who is relatively new to the circus scene – I entered my first professional preparatory program for aerials in February of 2020 – I am always eager to engage with circus performances around the country. The Insectinside presented movement and aerial pieces the likes of which I had never experienced and I was enraptured throughout the show.

For a quirky, thought-provoking, modern piece of theater, I would recommend checking out The Insectinside.

This post was written by the author in their personal capacity.The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the view of The Theatre Times, their staff or collaborators.