December 30, 2013 5:39 pm

Cirque Éloize, NYU Skirball Center, New York – review

The troupe’s 12 highly accomplished performers performed acts which glowed with honest rigour
Cirque Éloize’s ‘Cirkopolis’©Valérie Remise

Cirque Éloize’s ‘Cirkopolis’

Circus was reborn in the 1970s from the same countercultural impulse of conspicuous, labour-intensive self-sufficiency as city gardens: “We can grow our own food; we can be our own trampoline.” Picasso’s scrappy, soulful acrobats were an inspiration. The point was art, not stunts. In place of a ringleader calling out the acts, an evocative “theme” would hold them together.

By now the theme has become obligatory – and too often perfunctory. In the latest from Cirque Éloize of Montreal, it borders on nonsensical. Cirkopolis (until January 5) is set in a drab metropolis of office workers that Kafka would have recognised – if not for the skyscrapers. Via nifty video projection, we zoomed into concrete bulwarks that housed the massive gears of some monstrous machine. Then we zoomed out to behold a glittering 21st-century skyline. So which is it, oppressive state or cosmopolitan towers of opportunity? Do the citizens of Cirkopolis execute their extreme feats of derring-do as punishment or for pleasure? You decide, because it does not matter to Cirque Éloize.

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At least the troupe has put great care into its numbers, which glowed with honest rigour. From a standing launch on one man’s shoulders Reuben Hosler somersaulted into the air to land in a single-armed handstand on a second man’s head. Angelica Bongiovonni did not merely plant herself inside a massive steel hoop like Leonardo’s Vitruvian Man, gripping the rim with hands and feet while it wheeled around the stage; she spun inside that spinning orb.

Whether on the soft rope, the hard pole, the trapeze or the gymnastic rings, these 12 highly accomplished, specialist acrobats created balance and harmony on surfaces as much in flux as themselves. In the most spectacular acts, people served as that mobile foundation. In one outlandish number, three couples faced off to switch places like square-dancers while tossing pins every which way and catching them too. In another episode, four men knitted their hands together to catapult gymnast Maude Arseneault into the air. She spun and twisted, then dived into a second web of hands.

Who needs vague conceits when every one of these acts sparked an idea? It may have been modest and momentary, but we were there watching it ignite.


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