[ATTENDED: March 9, 2014] Cirque Éloize: Cirkopolis
What I have learned about circuses, cirques, and acrobats is that there are basically a half dozen things you can do: gymnastics on ropes, gymnastics on poles, contortions, juggling, wheels and balance. So, when you see a new act, it’s unlikely you’ll get much variation on these essential skills. The big difference comes in presentation. And while the Chinese Acrobats do wonderful presentation, they had nothing on Cirque Éloize for overall presentation, stage set up and storytelling.
The first thing you hear as the lights dim is loud industrial noises (the music was a little too loud, I felt, but it really showed the sense of oppression they were trying to convey). The din grew louder and louder until the curtain rose and we saw a man sitting at a desk stamping papers rhythmically. He finishes his work and more papers come. More and more (with simple comic touches and sound effects). He is dressed in drab grays as is every other person, including the women–suits, raincoats, all in drab gray. They start moving around en masse, doing some simple but interesting footwork as the music grows more tense. Our worker drone is swept up by the conforming masses. And then a video backdrop appears with gears and dark buildings. It zooms in on a scene as the first act begins–one where people start climbing all over his desk and jumping off. You get a feeling of Metropolis, or Brazil or even Charlie Chaplin films–and the zooming nature really makes it feel like you are soaring along.
What amazed about this sequence initially was their dress–you’re used to seeing acrobats in sleek outfits but these folks were in suits. And they started doing acrobatic stuff–but more of a mix of dance and acrobatics than simple feats of strength and agility. The most impressive part was when one of them men simple grabbed another man by the hands and essentially hurled him, upright, onto his own shoulders. There were amazing displays of this kind of strength and balance–nothing slow and subtle, just pop, there he is. And yet all the while other people are doing things behind him which are also amazing to watch.
Then there are splashes of color, a woman in a red dress who brings emotion to this dull world. She does a beautiful solo routine on one of those giant hula hoop wheels (called the Cyr Wheel), played to a yearning (and beautiful) soundtrack. It was quite a stunning sequence.
The acrobatics were interrupted by the constant return of our hero–I’m not actually sure if he did anything acrobatic (perhaps he was costumed like everyone else at some point or another), while they set up for other sequences. He does actually have one beautiful sequence in which he dances with a dress on a clothing rack (which sounds cheesey but was wonderfully expressive mime work).
These slower pieces had a beautiful soundtrack, which I have learned is original and which is available on CD–I’d consider getting it.
There were also much louder pieces. There was a funny sequence in which you weren’t sure if you were meant to watch the men constructing the gigantic pole that was being set up (they were in shadow, but noisy) or meant to be watching the sequence in the front also near the clothing rack, as they were doing a jokey sequence with gigantic headphone playing dance music.
The dance music led to the most amazing pole act I’ve ever seen (and we’ve seen a few). This was the first time I have ever seen a woman do the “flag” on a pole, but she pulled it off amazingly. And later, when the man did the flag, I’d never seen anyone do it like this before–simply jumping up into a horizontal position–no delays whatsoever. Stunning. They did some amazing tricks on the pole–some of which Id seen before, but many that were new to me. And they made a wonderful story out of it and included a lot of humor–like her knocking him off the pole and him kicking over the men standing around. All to this wonderful dancey loud music (with the screen behind them showing speakers pulsing with the music).
There was a wonderful trapeze sequence in which three women did amazing stunts and choreography on the trapeze–hanging off of each others’ legs, suspending and swinging so you often couldn’t even tell where some limbs ended and others began. This sequence was actually too short for my taste, I thought it was amazing). And as if in answer to the woman in the Cyr wheel, there was a group of men on a double wheel. It allowed them to do all sorts of cool-looking stunts on the wheel–spins and flips all while the wheel stayed in motion. It was very cool, and one of the more gasp-worthy sequences simply because they did things that you didn’t expect.
Although I don’t think there was a “plot” exactly, they kept returning to our office drone hero, involving him in bizarre sequences which allowed him to be the straight man. There was a very funny scene where a man came out and took of his shirt and the women standing near our drone couldn’t contain themselves in trying to get to him. He showed off his amazing muscles while our man tried in vain to compete with him. Or the one where he sat at his desk and women did cool contortions (which seemed somehow less creepy that with other contortionists because of their attire) right on his desk. Or this amazing picture on the right, wherein a guy did a split and then balanced on another guy’s legs–how is that even possible?
As the show moved closer to the end there were more and more splashes of color. But as you can see from the pictures, the predominate mode is drab gray which somehow made the moves seem more impressive and really made the color seem more vibrant. Like in the simple sequence in which a woman was carried along on the hands of men–literally using their hands and bodies as steps and then being carried away. It wasn’t the most exciting of the pieces, but it was really pretty to watch–almost as if she were floating.
Some other amazing sequences were the man on the ropes (doing iron crosses and whatnot) and the woman on the curtainlike-rope who wraps herself around and then plummets–both of these are standard cirque fare but done very well here.
Perhaps the most amazing act was the juggling–something I didn’t think I would ever say. It began as simple juggling, but slowly grew more wild and more involved. So there was a sequence where the jugglers were rotating and juggling with alternating people. Or a sequence where one guy was on a table that they lifted and moved as he juggled with others. The picture at the right doesn’t even begin to do justice–there were pins everywhere.
And a wonderful moment (which is in the video below) in which a guy leapfrogged a juggler and then jumped in the air to catch a pin. He actually missed both times, but that was fine (especially since when he missed they gave him a raspberry sound which was quite funny). There was also a Chinese yo yo section that topped anything that the Chinese acrobats did. Clark said this was his favorite. It was funny as well as amazing (they made very good use of the walls in the backdrop).
The grand finale was a wonderful burst of color (and a great callback to all the paperwork) and was primarily seesaws and flips. It seems typical, but I’ve never seen so many people flip through the air stiff as board to land on other people’s hands. It was really amazing and a wonderfully upbeat conclusion
I feel like after the Chinese acrobats I was a little unimpressed and unamazed. I enjoyed it, but I wasn’t blown away. Cirque Éloize, who are from Montreal, restored my blown-awayedness. I would absolutely see them again in another one of their shows and only wish they had another show in the works soon.
For ease of searching, I include: Cirque Eloize.