by Lynn on March 2, 2017

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Bluma Appel Theatre, Toronto, Ont.

Artistic Director and Co-director, Jeannot Painchaud
Co-director and Choreographer, Dave St.-Pierre
Set design, Illustrator and Video Projections Co-designer by Robert Massicotte
Composed by Stéfan Boucher
Costumes by Liz Vandal
Lighting by Nicolas Descôteaux
Video projections and co-designer, Rénald Laurin
Cast: Colin André –Hériaud
Selene Ballesteros—Minguer
Pauline Baud-Guillard
Aaron DeWitt
Jonathan Julien
Fédéric Lemieux-Cormier
Alexie Maheu
Jérémie Robert
Jérémy Vitupier
Antonin Wicky
Nora Zoller

Cirque Éloize creates Cirkopolis as a circus show with a beguiling twist. It’s full of wit, humour, grace and invention. It’s a bit repetitive which makes it seem too long, but that’s a quibble.

This is not the big, glitzy, garish world of Cirque de Soleil with a tacked on story. Cirque Éloize has the requisite tumbling, juggling, the impossible contortions, rope climbing, trapeze stuff etc. but with a difference.

We are in the soul-crushing world of a big city that frowns on individuality; in which the work is mindless and so repetitive you could lose your mind. Projections of huge turning gears overpowers people. Men (and some women) in the same coloured overcoat, wearing the same coloured hat bring in piles of paper for another man to stamp and put into another pile. The pace quickens. The piles of paper increase.

The colour scheme is dull until a man takes off the overcoat of another person revealing a lithe woman in a flowing red dress and loose blonde hair. A large hoop is rolled out from the wings. The woman twirls it; spreads out inside it while making it revolve in various patterns over the stage. The movement at times is languid and flowing and other times fast and not quite furious. At all times the visual is one of gracefulness, elegance and artfulness. At the end of the routine the woman delicately propels the hoop to circle the stage. The woman lies on the floor, positioning herself in such as way that she is in the middle of the hoop as its circling path gets smaller and smaller and finally drops around her. The large projection of the city and its gears move forward and out of view. Stunning image.

Soon after this is a variation on the theme of working with a similarly large hoop only this one is a double hoop joined by spokes. It’s a substantial piece of equipment and worked by a beefy (male) group of gymnast in grey undershirts and pants. They flip through, revolve inside, jump from spoke to spoke all the while moving with the rolling double hoop. The work is dextrous, energetic, and seemingly requiring lots of muscle.

While Cirque Éloize has the components of a regular circus, they do them with a twist in Cirkopolis. The grinding office motif enters into the scene with juggling. A team of office workers juggle bowling pins to their colleagues while sliding on chairs, standing on a table, racing from one area to the other. Bowling pins wiz through the air and are caught and thrown with the greatest of ease.Their individuality comes out in the colour of the costumes and their circus acumen.

Ballet is incorporated along with eye-popping feats of balancing when five men toss, catch and flip a graceful woman in a maroon dress. They throw her in the air and catch her by the legs that spread into very low splits. The first time that happens the audience gasps. The second and third time it happens the audience cross their legs in “projected sympathy.” The woman is held aloft by the men who are on their backs on the floor, arms up, in a circle. She walks gracefully from one hand to the other until she has made a circle. What is most astonishing in this feat, besides her ease and poise and their strength, is their sensitivity and tenderness as one hand passes her off to the next hand or how they catch and pass her to the next man for another trick. At the end the men quickly leave the stage for her to come forward and take her single bow. Classy. (sorry not to name the artists, the program is not helpful in being specific as to who does what.)

Interspersed with these feats of athletic prowess are scenes that go back to the drudgery of mindless, repetitive work in an overpowering city but it’s all done with impish humour. There is a lot of winking at the audience with this heart-thumping show.

If I have a quibble it’s that too often various feats are similar. A man balancing and flipping on a contraption as he’s suspended in the air echoes three women doing trapeze work later in the show. Two performers climbing a pole, doing all manner of gymnastic wizardry, sliding down it and stopping just before crashing into the floor, echoes a woman who climbs up a rope and for all intents and purposes does the same thing only solo with lots of rope flipping. It becomes just a touch tedious as the evening progresses and makes the 90 minutes of the show lag.

Perhaps it was opening night glitches but it seemed that in two cases when the stars of a feat came forward for their bows they did it in gloom and not a proper spotlight.

That said, Cirkopolis is a bold show of gymnastic, circus excellence, full of artistry, humour and human dazzle.

Canadian Stage and the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts Present:

Opened: March 1, 2017.
Closes: March 18, 2017.
Cast: 11 talented men and women.
Running Time: 90 minutes, no intermission.

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