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Thursday, August 08, 2013

City Flights

AS RED-GOWNED Angelica Bongiovanni crept onto the stage, in the opening minutes of “Cirkopolis,” she was pursued by an outsized hula-hoop, nearly six feet in diameter, catlike in its ease of movement and apparent wish to rub Bongiovanni around the ankles.

Angelica Bongiovanni
She moves from merely dancing with it – it’s called a Cyr wheel, designed by and named for one of the Cirque Éloize founders – to taking a through-the-looking-glass trip to its interior. It carries her in sweeping arcs around the stage. She seems weightless. The wheel seems to be controlling her as it settles and climbs and spins her upside-down.

Coming, as it does, after an industrially soul-crushing prologue, it seems pastoral. It looks beautiful. Bongiovanni’s breathtaking skill is an afterthought.

“Cirkoplis,” the latest spectacle from Montreal’s Cirque Éloize, welcomes us with an office space used by shows as diverse as “The Adding Machine” and “Gatz.” It’s the office through which Charles Laughton shambles in search of escape in “If I Had a Million.” And the gears heavily cranking in the impressive video backdrop remind us that it’s also the assembly line of “Modern Times.”

The clerk is a clown, or better to report that the clown is a clerk. British comedian Ashley Carr is the everyman of the piece, seen first at a desk, rubber-stamping a paper-pile that only grows. Oppressed by an environment that knows when he’s the least insubordinate, he is pursued by a grey-suited gang into a realm of dance and acrobatics, eventually landing him into a classic clown routine (but with original twists) of romancing an ever-more-animate hanger-bound dress.

Ashley Carr and friends
Movement designed by choreographer Dave St-Pierre gives the story its glue, in an abstraction of rebellious dance. The twelve-member troupe blends specialties, with six of them, led by Frederic Lemieux-Cormier, piloting a German wheel, and diabolo virtuoso Dominique Bouchard only adding to his astonishing tricks by juggling the damn things with two others.

No animals, no ring characterize this circus. In the tradition of Cirque du Soleil, this is a celebration of human ability, conquering ropes and bars and clubs and height. Jeannot Painchaud worked with that company before founding, with which he remains artistic director. And where Cirque du Soleil got bit by the Vegas bug, inflating its extravaganzas to fantastic size,
Cirque Éloize remains comparatively intimate, with a sense of non-corporate personality.

It’s a misnomer to term circus arts “gravity defying.” They celebrate that which keeps us grounded. They discover new ways of appreciating that reliable pull, whether it be the simple-looking twirls of Ugo Laffolay on straps or the hit-the-brakes precision of Maude Arseneault and Mikael Bruyere-L’Abbe on the Chinese pole.

There would seem to be few ways in which to rework the circus-arts classics, but a well-realized concept like the gears and pipes of an office space recontextualizes it all into an inspiring pursuit of freedom – even if, like me, you’d be hard-pressed to do a chin-up. 

Performances continue at Proctors through August 24, and there’s an ongoing circus arts camp for kids and grown-ups through August 23.

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