The big top’s evolution: Cirkopolis by Cirque Eloize

Cirkopolis is a new show at the Melbourne International Arts Festival that combines elegance, athleticism, and lighthearted humor with a narrative that celebrates individuality.

I attended this theatrically and stylistically sophisticated show by Cirque Eloize at the Sydney Opera House this week. A Montreal-based group of multi-disciplinary artists is currently touring Australia.

The storyline and the visuals are a reference to Fritz Lang’s silent film Metropolis from 1927. Cirkopolis also features characters searching for intimacy in a dystopian urban future. This show is a ghost of Charlie Chaplin’s 1936 film Modern Times. The Little Tramp struggles to survive an industrialized, impersonal environment.

This finely tuned ensemble of nine male and three female performers from Canada, France, and the Netherlands is a mesmerizing blend of circus, dance, and theatre.

The circus is a hybrid form of art that combines physical ability, humor, and theatrical artistry. Since its origins in the urbanizing societies of the 18th century, the circus has evolved into a flexible performance genre that can adapt to the cultural and social context of its day.

Since the 1970s, the circus has undergone a constant renewal thanks to innovative “new” companies like Circus Oz (Australia), Archaos in France, and Cirque du Soir (Quebec). The Nordic countries, which have been reviving the circus culture in recent years, and innovative troupes like Finland’s Race Horse Company are changing how we view the circus.

Cirque Eloize performed its first show in 1997. The company occupies a mid-point in the history of the revival of circus arts, which has been ongoing since the 1970s. A circus with 100 employees would be considered a large entertainment company in Australia.

Cirque Eloize, which is located in Montreal, is a mere speck compared to Cirque du Soleil, an international entertainment company that employs over 4,000 people, including 1,300 performers.

These numbers show Quebec’s unique contribution to nurturing and renewing the circus arts over the last 40 years. Cirque Eloize has also been able to establish its style in a highly competitive circus entertainment environment.

Cirkopolis, directed by Jeannot Pachaud and Dave St-Pierre, owes its roots to traditional circus forms as well as to the circus’s tendency to borrow, adapt, and update. Elite physical demonstrations on different apparatus anchor the show.

The Chinese pole is one example – it’s a vertical pole that performers can climb, slide and pose on. The teeterboard is a seesaw-like apparatus that acrobats use to launch themselves into aerial somersaults. They land on large mats or in the hands of other performers.

The German wheel is a gymnastic apparatus made up of two large rings that can be controlled by one or several acrobats. The Cyr wheel is a large metal hoop that the acrobats spin from within the wheel as they move around the stage.

The show features contortion and trapeze, as well as juggling and hand-to-hand acts of strength and stability. There is also banquine, an acrobatic group act that keeps the flyer off the floor at all times.

Entr’actes, which follow the process of the traditional circus show, are finely choreographed to divert attention from the assembly and disassembly of apparatus equipment. If not handled well, this technical requirement can disrupt the flow of a show.

Cirkopolis, of course, is just as much about dance and theater as it is about circus. Joris De Jong, the Dutch juggler, seamlessly combines dance, acrobatics, and his unique juggling skills.

Myriam deraiche’s aerial acrobatics and contortions embody both the grace and strength of a circus artist. At the same time, Lea Toran Jenner’s elegant work with the Cyr wheel captures playfully the qualities of grace, strength, and artistry, which should be at the core of all circus performances.

Cirkopolis’s new version of the circus is based on computer-generated animation, which abandons any pretense of the traditional circus ring. From the very beginning, the show’s industrialized world is brought to life by attractive animated video projections.

The visual and narrative backdrop provides a setting for the characters to find their own playful identities and connect with others.

Cirque Eloize’s Cirkopolis represents a beautifully uncluttered, enchanting moment of evolution in the circus.

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