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Flash Review 2, 11-1: Cirque, Unplugged
Eloize in California

By Christine Chen
Copyright 2001 Christine Chen

BERKELEY -- The Quebec-based contemporary circus company Cirque Eloize, under the direction of Christine Rossignol, Jeannot Painchaud, and Michel Dallaire, exhilarated Bay Area audiences at Zellerbach Hall this last weekend with a well-honed show, "Excentricus." Created in 1997 and presented in Berkeley by Cal Performances, "Excentricus" folds impressive circus skills into a 90-minute romp of lighthearted play, quirky antics, and live jazz/rock music. Unlike its more slickly produced cousin, Cirque du Soleil, Cirque Eloize does not rely on big budget set transformations, otherworldly illusions, masses of talented artists, or an overarching theme or journey for its effect. Rather, the nine circus artists and five musicians of the company take their considerable skills to the proscenium stage in a character-driven display of virtuosity and mirth.

Petra Lange's giddy girl character starts off the evening's frolic with her substantial rope solo. Putting as much value into the artistry of her transitions and set-ups as she gives to her tricks, Lange twists, falls, and folds her body into and out of the rope. She tirelessly performs innumerable tricks, moving up the rope each successive time with as much ease as when gravity allows her to tumble down. The level of movement exploration on the rope is the deepest and most innovative I have seen. All her feats are presented without any of the usual circus fanfare -- the performer stays in the stage-world and never solicits applause from the audience (the audience at Cal readily obliged nonetheless).

Arguably the most virtuosic performer of the show is Serge Huercio on his bike. Huercio slips his body on, around, over, under, and through his bicycle with an inhuman agility and ease while peddling and flipping it in every conceivable and unconceivable configuration (backwards, upside down, spinning, standing, sitting, perching on the handlebars, and running on the wheels). Huercio executes all this while remaining wonderfully in character, with the erect back and inquisitive face of a bewildered yet lovable nerd. Probably the most endearing character of the show is Jamie Adkins, whose nervously awkward antics eventually lead him into a witty slack wire solo.

Noemie Sirard-Gervais and Ariane Darche are less effective with their characterizations, portraying unsympathetic and, at times, annoying women (Sirard-Gervais is a rebellious anti-socialite and Darche is a chatty-Cathy). Both seem to go in and out of character and perform the archetypal gestures of their characters without the humanity. What they lack in character depth, however, they absolutely make up for with their technical prowess and delectable artistry in their respective specialties. Sirard-Gervais hooks up with Alain Boudreau in a seamlessly executed hand balancing duet, while Darche joins Antoine M. Gagnon for a stunning aerial cradle section where the two hang, swing and support each other from their apparatus rigged high in the air.

Rounding out the program are performances by Daniel Cyr on a ladder and acrobatic wheel, Robert Bourgeois on the mini-trampoline, an all-male juggling act, musical interludes, and a full-cast bicycle pile. Transitions between the acts are meticulously choreographed with an informal air. While they still bear the look of a circus company searching for the best way to mask and/or incorporate the necessary technical changes into the program, the clever free associations, the controlled chaos, and the high energy of the musicians and the performers integrated these shifts with a fun flair.

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