Running away with the Cirque

Just returned from vacation in Quebec. You know – it’s like Europe, only closer? Actually, it’s true. It was weird to think we were only in Canada, and easily less than 100 miles…er, whatever that is in kilometers…from the US. It’s an interesting culture, everything’s familiar but just slightly askew. And as the saying goes: When in Rome….or this case, Montreal….we had to see the circus, of course.

Cirque Eloize (pronounced el-waz) opened their new show, Nebbia, at the Place des Arts complex on Friday. They’ll do three performances and then head to France, Spain and Switzerland over the next month. This was a true joy to watch and was just what I had expected: a beautiful combination of acrobatics, dance, story telling and theater, with beautiful creative staging and lighting. Also, very little dialogue – which is good because it was all in French and I no parlo la francaise. I’m sure there were nuances and meanings that I missed in the bit of narration but I got the gist.

Side note: one of the characters was Italian, so he spoke French with an Italian accent. I was totally lost.

A few of the highlights:

There was the expected “woman spinning, twisting, hanging, sliding and all-while-seeming-to-dance with two silk curtains” routine which opened the show. My palms sweated, my heart raced and I literally gasped when she was about 35 feet off the stage floor, pulled the curtain up from below, wrapped it around her and dropped about 25 feet spinning as she went down and and stopped abruptly about 10 feet from the floor. (My palms sweat now just typing this.)

The start of the second act included the trampoline bit where a wall/curtain are raised/lowered to minimize the proscenium and performers are doing acrobatics on a trampoline so that you only see bodies bounding up and down and up and down and up and….there’s a trapeze up there that they grabbed. The things these people could do, alone, together, in unison. It was like dance. And funny.

There was an incredible dance and balancing act that was nerve wracking and enthralling. One man and one woman – both gorgeous, in white outfits, and beautifully lit stage.  It began with her standing on his shoulders, and included his holding her up by a single ankle, her balancing his two hands – I swear at one point I thought she floated. But he picked her up and put her down with such grace, it was ballet like – and much of their movement was straight from dance. Not that Fred ever picked Ginger up over his head by one hand, and she balanced on one leg. The other cast members were in the background, in shadows, watching. At one point about a half dozen sharp, small pools of light filled the stage and the cast in the back had mirrors which they held up and reflected the lights out into the house, moving them across the back walls (and seemingly being careful to not blind an audience member.) This description does not do it justice.  It was a beautiful, delicate piece.

And there was sort of the main story line that kept reappearing. Someone who could only be described as a boy, now a man, with a mental and physical disability, who dreamed of being a ballerina. He made his own tutu out of old stiff newspapers. He could hardly walk, and certainly not alone, but you could see in him his dream to dance, and everyone in the town helped him to realize that dream.

Of course there was also some slapstick, a contortionist (wow), hundreds of spinning plates on poles, and songs. All with a high theatrical style and huge imagination. It reminded me of the earlier days of Theatre de la Jeune Lune with its imagination and use of imagery and its telling a story without a saying a word, with its earnest and vulnerable characters.

It was the kind of thing that can be inspiring mesmerizing and powerful. It was the kind of night that made me miss seeing such imagination on stage (and miss the old Jeune Lune). It was the kind of show that made me want to do better, more powerful, more creative work that pulls at the heart and the mind and gets the blood pumping.

It was a beautiful night at the théâtre.

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