Cirque Éloize


Cal Performances,
Zellerbach Hall

Berkeley, CA

September 25, 2002
by Toba Singer

Ruminant, roaming, Roma: What child hasn't entertained the fantasy of freeing themselves from their accidental attachments to family, nationality, and social class to heed the appeal of the campfire and tambourine and "run off" with the gypsies? Our September 25 Cirque Éloize evening placed us under the stars, in the thrall of a band of acrobats and jugglers, whose stage presence, comic timing, musicality, gymnastic acuity and dance training revivify the concept of total theater. Though there is nothing experimental here, the interpretive zest this troupe exudes brings even the most urbane scholar to his feet, clapping wildly at the finish. You owe it to yourself and your progeny to "be there" for this rare moment of universal acclamation.

This production, Nomade, opens with a soft cop/hard cop European-style vaudevillian routine performed by Nicolas Lereche and Bartlomiej Soroczynski. The comic duo discharges a volley of disclaimers to their unidentified and absent muse, Sofia. She is the apparent lost love of one (or perhaps both) of them, and they warn her off daring to think that this production (created by Daniele Finzi Pasca, with direction by Jeannot Painchaud) was inspired in any way by her. Unlike most circuses that keep us at arm's length with big animals and their gun-toting trainers, or glitzy costumes that blind us, Cirque Éloize uses this bit to invite us into direct contact with its greatest intimacies. The next scene has a dartboard placed stage left, and as hatchets are thrown across the stage at the target and a motley crew of characters assembles to sing and carouse, you might feel as though you are smack dab in the middle of the Star Wars bar scene. A man dressed in a bride's gown leads an entourage toward a wedding that never takes place, and as clogging music comes up, Stefan Wepfer ascends a Chinese pole, shimmying up and down with no feet, then no hands, and then stops mid-air, his body at right angles to the pole.

A billowing cloud of quilted red fabric appears on the floor of the stage. A woman walks on a giant ball across the billows. An aerialist initiates a theme that reprises throughout – looping himself up the length of a suspended rope, and then tumbling down out of the loops, but not before spinning out in a giant gyroscopic vertical loop. Then two men levitate one woman. Before a giant white moon, African music plays, and rice rains down on the stage from above. The props are simple, but the staging lends them great theatricality.

In an act that steals the show, a chorus of jugglers dances to Klezmer music, throwing and catching pomegranate-red juggling pins in front and in back, juggling while atop pyramid formations of fellow acrobat-jugglers. Dance, juggling, and acrobatics are thus combined in one breathtaking spectacle. In another scene, featuring Spanish-style majas, blue crystal balls are juggled to great effect. When a woman performer is atop the pyramid, we cannot help but think that this lends a whole new meaning to the phrase, "woman on top." Women in this troupe do everything that men do and often much more, including lifts of men bigger and taller than they are. It makes you question the wisdom of ballet company directors who reject out of hand, female dancers who happen to be tall.

There is a delicious tango segment, where a man wears an accordion on his back like a backpack and carries a guitar in front. His dance partner hugs him and plays his accordion as he strums the guitar, all the while stealing kisses, accompanied by commentary and song in at least three languages. Against the simplicity of the rustic, outdoor setting, unfolds a complexity of levels, languages, and culture, stitched together seamlessly by humor, music, timing, skill and artistry. All that stands to be destroyed by the impending threat and reality of world war is onstage before us.

There is so much more to enjoy. Aerialist Suzanne Soler chats with the audience as she plays on the trapeze. Soroczynski reappears on a unicycle, zigzagging about the stage as the scene segues to a man in a black hat singing bistro songs. The entire troupe appears in turn-of-the-last-century bloomers to execute a gymnastic act on a see-saw. The big moon appears again, with the aerialist. A billow of scrim that was the curtain is now deployed across the stage. As he shimmies up the rope, the aerialist's feet suck up the scrim, twisting it in a trail behind him about the rope.

The moon goes from white to golden, as an Italian drinking song commences and the performers begin to dance one by one on a giant banquet table that makes us think of The Last Supper. Chairs are piled together in a precarious-looking tower, as one after another performer scales them, and then comes Ewelina Fijolek. She climbs to the very top, and executes a handstand. In a Threepenny Opera tableau, where those who were drunk moments ago are suddenly sober, fog rolls in and then rice-rain falls, and we see that the show is slowing to a close. The performers leap in twos onto and off the table, moving downstage to take their curtain calls. We wonder why Circus Arts isn't a component of dance training? It confers flexibility, musicality, confidence, timing, versatility and most important of all, spirit and esprit de corps, and in this case, instead of performers resenting that their comrades come from other countries and cultures, they appear to very much welcome the opportunity to learn from one another. No country's flag is in evidence here. The internationalism of this event speaks volumes about "what the world needs now." Any single nation's flag, "under God" or not, would have been redundant, if not outright offensive in this setting.

So, the thing to do would be to SEE Cirque Éloize. And, as the Suzanne Soler said in her French-accented English to the balcony audience seated at the same level as her trapeze, "Sit downstairs when you come [next time]. It's better!"


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Edited by Mary Ellen.

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