On May 27th and 28th, La Tohu set the stage for Circus graduates. Between symbols borrowed from the unrreal, the mysterious, the fairy tale and the mythological, the Ecole Nationale de Cirque de Montréal offers a duet of shows to demonstrate its best students’ physical prowess and interpretation talents.
Once upon a time on a spherical stage, there was a shelter. Knock on it and it shall respond. Shelter (L’Abri) is the name of a beautifully choreographed show by the graduates of the Ecole Nationale de Cirque in Montreal. At its premiere, those 31 young and driven people made it obvious that their graduate performance was not the end, but rather the beginning of a promising career in internationally acclaimed circus troupes.
Directed by Gioconda Barbuto, they wore the dynamic, flashy, gaudy colours of their hopes, and in a Flashdance movie, danced their life on the stage. Their chests were out and their teeth bared when running in a vertical fashion along the walls of the shelter, like animals on a chase, responding to the relentless rhthyms of Woodkid’s Run Boy Run. They seemed like a pack of wolves, lured by the shelter yet escaping from it, crowded inside of it, and then climbing on top. Intense ocular solicitation made it hard to stay focused, owing to each individual’s specific talents. Between russian cradle, cyr wheels, trapeze duets, aerial straps or diabolos, I stayed amazed. Thumbs up to the humoristic touch provided by their leader, a lovable troublemaker, both chased by and respected by his peers.
The muscular built of their bodies, a valuable token of many a years of hard work and strenuous exercise, was impressive. The results proved successful as the crowd stood up to give the students a hearty applause.
Shelter appeared as a strong metaphor for a place and time that looks and feels like home, something we love to retain for its maternal and convenient qualities. But, we have to leave that home soon, as each must make his own way towards adulthood and independence. The dancers’ limbs were put to the test, tensed at the extreme, on the verge of bursting, just like a baby in utero presses its way out and sees the world. Leaving the cocoon, the shelter is a hardship that must be outsmarted. Bound together, the group defeats the void, their solidarity is a strong impediment to loss. In stellar moments, a half-grown moon held in the air teased a fallen sun, catching its last moments of fun around a German wheel. Only the transition between the 12 acts suffered from quiet absence, which made Shelter look a little like a talent show rather than a collaboratively-built piece.
The same goes for Morpheus’ Matrix (la Matrice de Morphée) created and directed by Michael Watts. Do not misunderstand me; the shows were high-quality and had the guts to feature a multitude of actors. I remain in awe regarding the staging ability of both performances.
Stepping into the Circus’ matrix was like loitering amidst a tangled web of extraordinary characters sauntering through a maze of an onstage wonderland. It was Icarus with actual flying wings. The show represented a recreation of the Biblical Garden of Eden mixed with figures borrowed from Greek and Roman mythology (angels, hunters, and others). A jungle of people not meant to meet were there. Fairy tale imagery endowed the show with a magic and accessible touch at the same time.
In a prelude, a demented unicorn set the stage for a universe of fantastic elements, taking all of us back to a place lost once and forever, namely childhood.
Having a leitmotiv, here again, helped create a bond with the audience. Two presenters were there to surprise, shock and mock; they also provided a powerful step back into reality, that we were there for entertainment, a circus show. In this age of leisure, TV dramas and mass consumption, the dream cannot last forever but what matters is how we sublimate our everyday reality. To help us do so, the staging featured an everyman as a devil who ate the apple away from Adam and Eve, unaware of his fatal sin. But despite loneliness and inexperience, evil ends up lifted to the skies where he eventually belongs. Salvation may be on the menu for all of us, it seems. Adam and Eve played dangerously in entrusting their lives with their soulmate, until the last fall.
Lunar individuals opened and closed the show in a circular motion, with Pierrot first, then Columbine, operating their cyr wheel with acumen and precision. In an earnest yet dreamy state, they make the spectator’s world go round. I held my breath lest they should escape their perfect circle. The mechanics of isolation and madness were also displayed. Everything is illusion, and even the onstage players no longer have a clue whether this was a role they were playing or if this was their own reality. Thumbs up to the spectacular young man on his unicycle for whom skipping on a table and defying the psychiatrist’s authority were mere formalities. All students demonstrated professionalism, even when making a few mistakes (those Chinese hoops really gave them a hard time in both shows). They got over mishaps with composure. Finally, a beautiful score was present in both performance acts. Last week, I attended a circus show for the first time of my life, and I enjoyed every single minute of it
L’Abri and La Matrice de Morphée take place at Tohu (2345 Jarry E) until June 8. See website for details about time.