THE TRICKS ARE MEMORABLE, but it’s the scatty and lovable web of interplay that distinguishes Cirque Éloize.
Cirque Éloize’s Rain culminates in an on-stage downpour, but the audience knows that in advance. Instead of building up to this watery coup de théâtre, the show gets more and more low-key, until it seems logical to see 11 grown people sloshing and sliding around in what amounts to a great big puddle.
The Montreal-based company, which visited the Cutler Majestic last week as a joint presentation of CRASHarts and the Celebrity Series, seems devoted to playing down the spectacular and the superhuman. The performers are very good at circus skills — juggling, acrobatics and tumbling, aerial work, feats of strength. They’re also singers, actors, musicians, and fakers. They want us to believe they’re kind of improvising, slightly unprepared, maybe even self-conscious about going in front of an audience with nothing more impressive to offer than balancing on one hand on the head of a man who’s standing on the shoulders of three or four other people.
This disarming diffidence is an act, of course, an offhandedness that makes Cirque Éloize unique among new-circus shows. Early in the evening, a woman stands in a dogmatic downlight and asks, “What’s with this new circus anyway? It’s so cerebral . . . ” Another woman wanders in and tries to explain: “New circus explores the unconscious.” While they’re debating æsthetics, an object that looks like a size 14 sneaker falls out of the flies and thuds to the floor. Then another and another. “That’s beautiful!” the young woman remarks in an aside, as the argument continues.
Stéphane Gentilini, a thin, bookish man, is the master of ceremonies. He’s really too shy for the job, and women are always prompting him and correcting his pronunciation. He juggles with beer bottles and Indian clubs and joins a team of precision pyramid builders. He juggles apologetically with a suitcase and later supervises the job of packing Nadine Louis into another suitcase not much bigger than a carry-on.
For the finale of the first act, “Teeterboard,” the whole company scurries around setting up a large seesaw, along with a thick landing pad and a brightly colored but flimsy-looking lifeguard tower. Two men climb up the tower and another man stands opposite them on one end of the seesaw. Pianist Jocelyn Bigras announces that we’re about to see a Double Back Scissors Flip with Degree of Difficulty 9.2.
The two guys on the tower link arms and jump down onto the high end of the teeterboard. Propelled skyward, the other man does two back flips in the air and lands on the pad. The tricks get trickier, the two helpers more nervous, and when it all goes terribly wrong there’s a moment of consternation. Then they carry on.
Cirque Éloize’s approach to spectacle is a little like competition ice skating. You can’t just do one trick after another, no matter how fabulous, so you surround the tricks with other stuff to create a choreographic narrative — in their case, ineptitude, anxiety, covert rivalries.
The tricks are memorable too. Krin Maren Haglund and Jonas Woolverton spin splayed-out inside six-foot hoops. Two women slowly share a trapeze in an erotic duet. Two muscle men maneuver each other into extreme, seemingly no-handed shapes. Five women slither and revolve high above the stage on swags of cloth.