“Cirque du Soleil, or the ‘Circus of the Sun’ was started by two street performers in Canada and it quickly blossomed into a world-renowned contemporary circus.”
As it says on their website, the magic of cirque grew out of the finely hones sensibilities of street artists. But this, this is a review, a response, in two parts.
The first part, is a charming review of a lovely performance.
The second, a look at the machine that employs nearly ‘4,000 employees, including 1,300 artists from more than 50 different countries.’ Because Cirque is an utterly unique company, a fabulous monstrosity, a king amongst carnies, an institution scorned and revered, and a company without peer. And for a fringe arts afficionado like myself, it is very nearly impossible to separate the machine from the show.
The show is lovely. It really is. There is just enough of plot to make a framework for some very clever acrobatics routines. A mad scientist conducts an experiment, to ostensibly send himself into the sky (or the future?) But the experiment goes wrong, and instead, strange and eldritch creatures from another world, suddenly arrive for a holiday of their own. We are treated to a smattering of some of the trickiest skills in the world, from some wonderful Korean cradle, a masterful yoyo routine to knock your socks off, a range of aerial wonders and some classic clubs juggling.
It turns out the signature Cirque costumes, renowned for their rowdy loudness, are perfect for piscine aliens. Gills and frills and succulent patterns draped over lithe bodies doing wondrous things. There is a nod to the spectacle of yesteryear, with a thoughtful performance by Rima Hadchiti as an operatic madame, who is carted around by a living train, Mr Microsmos, who much reminded me of the Tin Man.
Live music set a thrumming pace and a spectacular set moved and changed beneath the performers, each adding to an exciting opening night extravaganza that had most of the audience on their feet at the end.
Amidst all the spectacle, the highlights for me were a perfectly performed cat in a moment of exquisitely awkward audience interaction, and a wonderful world made from dancing hands. The simplest pieces perhaps, but the ones with most warmth, and wonder, and otherworldly charm.
It is a wonderful show, although if there is a political or other deeper message it is hard to discern. That’s okay, sometimes we just want pure entertainment, we don’t always require our shows to challenge our sensibilities. The show doesn’t pretend to be more than it is either, as is the Cirque way…. They have a fabulous brand, and people know what to expect, for a given value of expect.
Gender balance was amiss, with a cast two-thirds men, which is always disappointing in the new millennium. It’s not like there aren’t amazing female acrobats out there – there were several on stage. It is possible that the show changes from night-to-night, as is the way with big touring companies, and that on other nights there is a different mix. This night though was heavily skewed. We look to our institutions to lead the way in these matters, and would be better to see a more balanced cast in future.
And institution it is. As I started reading into the background of Cirque I was once again amazed, and in awe, and taken aback.
Cirque is also the success story that comes when a company is supported through solid support by their government. A million dollar contract in 1984 set the stage for a tumultuous rise to the top, although it was a rocky path by all accounts. A range of successful prjects, big risks and occasional spectacular failures were also spliced with superb timing and luck. Either way, those early days as street performer gave both tenacity and grit, and if a carnie cannot turn a tricky situation into a fabulous possibility than who can? Although it appears co-founder Guy Laliberté has gone further than most…. “With an estimated net worth of US$1.37 billion (as of January 2018), Laliberté was ranked by Forbes as the 11th wealthiest Canadian.” (Wikipedia)
As a fringe arts performer, sometimes it is heard to look at the huge infrastructure that accompanies such a show, and see it with the same eyes. Nonetheless, even with the jaded eyes of an unfunded artist, I am pleased, really thrilled, that there are huge spectacles like this, that the so-called common people come out in their droves, and gather at the edge of town to see wonders the likes of which are rarely seen. The old mystery remains true, even when the outer tent is filled with overpriced merch and the entrance includes a bag search and body scan.
A review should focus on the show and not the venue or other fripperies, in this case, and on this platform, these aspects are intertwined. This beautiful beast rolls through town every few years, and it is worth it for the tricks – and I hope the local dignitaries and arts bodies are looking at this world of wonder and thinking what kind of possibilities might lay dormant in our own companies.
Photos: Martin Girard / shootstudio.ca Costumes: Philippe Guillotel © 2014 Cirque du Soleil