Apr 2 2015 | By More

✭✭✭✩✩    Scintillating skills

Festival Theatre: Wed 1 – Sat 4 Apr 2015

Breathtaking stunts and athletic grace are certainly in evidence in Cirkopolis at the Festival Theatre. However, the show that contains them is not always so convincing.

Jeannot Painchaud and Dave St Pierre of Montreal-based Cirque Éloize conceived of Cirkopolis as a combination of circus, dance and theatre, inspired by the films Metropolis and Brazil. The attempt to be so all-encompassing suggests a lack of decisiveness in the show’s direction that is certainly in evidence in its execution.

The German Wheel in Cirkopolis. Photo credit: Cirque Eloize

The German Wheel in Cirkopolis. Photo credit: Cirque Eloize

The theatrical element, showing individuality crushed by an oppressive state, is not presented with any rigour. It is mainly represented by some intrusive back projection that never even comes close to the effectiveness of the films that are its supposed inspiration.

Instead, with its electronic musical backing, the disappointing opening sequence resembles a concept for a Pet Shop Boys live show that has been turned down for lacking originality and colour.

Thankfully, the ‘dramatic’ strand is soon dispensed with. It must be stressed, however, that the production retains a large element of dance. The overlap between what is presented here and contemporary dance companies such as Cedar Lake is far greater than anyone attending a production described as ‘circus’ would be entitled to expect.

As circus performers, however, the company here unsurprisingly include more acrobatics and athletic contortions than the average dance company, and while these are undoubtedly impressive, they detract from the emotional impact of these segments. Some of the musical backing, moreover, is less than compelling.

death-defying athleticism

In the end, the multiple focus of the show detracts from the impact of the more traditional circus elements, which is unfortunate – doubly so when those parts are as strong as they are here. There can be no denying the abilities of these 13 performers, and there is enough death-defying athleticism and sinuous grace to satisfy anyone.

Contortion in Cirkopolis. Photo credit: Cirque Eloize

Contortion in Cirkopolis. Photo credit: Cirque Eloize

Particularly striking is the work on the Chinese Pole by Maude Arsenault, Mikaël Bryuère-L’Abbé and Olivier Poitras. The way in which they perform somersaults on a pole six metres above the stage, before sliding down it head first only to stop just above the ground, almost defies belief and comes close to the purest essence of the circus.

There is a similar feel of danger, albeit of a different kind, when the whole company perform a juggling act while moving around on wheeled office furniture. The whole routine seems, thrillingly, destined to fall apart at any moment – something that is not the case with solo juggler Joris de Jong, whose routine, while accomplished, lacks punch as a result.

The closing routine featuring the teeterboard (the giant seesaw from which performers are catapulted into the air) also has an enjoyably worrying edge to it. The feeling that some of the stunts have to appear difficult and dangerous is something this company understands very well, and there are plenty of edge-of-the-seat moments here.

stately artistry

This contrasts well with the more graceful skills on display. Léa Toran Jenner’s work on the Cyr Wheel, a huge metal hoop developed by the company’s founder, has a definite style and beauty as she whirls around inside the wheel, her red dress flowing around her. This is one of the moments where the influence of dance greatly enhances the performance. Similarly, the trapeze routine downplays any element of risk, instead achieving a stately, calm artistry, as does Ugo Laffolay’s towering handstand feature.

Juggling in Cirkopolis. Photo credit: Cirque Eloize

Juggling in Cirkopolis. Photo credit: Cirque Eloize

The German Wheel routine, featuring an oversized hamster wheel used for gymnastic displays, seemingly effortlessly combines energy and elegance. It is one of the evening’s most effectively structured routines, beginning with five performers and climaxing with the specialist Frédéric Lemieux-Cormier working alone to magnificent effect.

Ashley Carr, the clown figure whose presence links the routines together far more effectively than any supposed story does, provides an endearing onstage presence.

The skill on display goes a long way to explaining how this production has run for so long – Thursday’s performance being the 300th in the show’s history. However, rather than reinforcing the power of the circus performances, the other strands on show dissipate it. This means the overall effect, while impressive, falls some way short of stunning.

Running time: 1 hour 50 minutes (including interval)
Festival Theatre, 13/29 Nicolson Street EH8 9FT
Wednesday 1 – Saturday 4 April 2015
Evenings at 7.30 pm, Saturday matinee at 2.30 pm
Full details and tickets at:

Show on tour:
Wed 1 – Sat 4April Edinburgh
Festival Theatre
0131 529 6000 Book online
Wed 8 – Sat 11 April Cardiff
Wales Millennium Centre
029 2063 6464 Book online


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