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Flash Review, 6-30: High Tidings
Eloize Takes a Bath

By Angela Jones
Copyright 2005 Angela Jones

NEW YORK -- I hate everything... generally. I'm a typical ex-modern-dancer-turned-downtown cynic who starts by looking for the predictable in every show. But Cirque Eloize's "Rain," seen June 23 at the New Victory Theater, where it continues through July 10, blew me out of the water (quite literally). It somehow managed to pull me in and hold my attention from start to finish by being charming, utterly surprising, engaging, evocative, humorous, playful, poignant, and aesthetically pleasing to boot.

All the performers are clearly seasoned and know their apparatuses inside and out. They also manage to build and develop their individual characters throughout, creating not only cohesion but also a piece with clear direction and intention, the likes of which most other circuses only aspire to. The beauty of "Rain" is also that even though we are taken on a journey, I couldn't tell you exactly what the story is, but there is a sense of one. It takes place quite a while ago, in a place we can somehow all remember. Time and place are malleable -- right when you think you know where something is about to go, it gets turned on its head, sometimes literally.

From the beginning, we are struck with layers within layers unfolding both visually and conceptually. "Rain" starts with an archetypal demure male French poet earnestly telling us about the work about to be performed, while from offstage we hear the voice of an American woman begin to emphatically correct all his English pronunciation. Then a light appears behind the scrim and we see a rag-tag team of musicians (all the circus performers) wandering along. Later we see a woman laughing as she floats up and down in the air, suspended by a bungee and wearing a long billowing skirt. The performers continue to delight us from there, tossing out images and ideas with joyous nonchalance.

At one point, two women even begin to discuss the idea of "the new circus" and what it means to be artistic. As they talk, big black boots drop out of the ceiling. One woman rejoices in the metaphors they evoke, while the other woman questions why there is a technician standing above trying to endanger their safety. It is this almost flippant yet cunning self-awareness that keeps the metaphors from becoming too heavy and the schtick from becoming too fluffy.

It's not just the context of the acts that is so beguiling but each act in itself. The first act is a solo juggler, Stephane Gentilini (the poet from the prologue). He dances with his clubs, moving his body in and around them, tucking them under his arms, rolling them off his back so that it becomes difficult to perceive where he is manipulating the clubs and where they are manipulating him. Juggling is usually not one of my favorite types of acts, but this relied more on dance than on hand-eye coordination.

Another exceptional act is a duo trapeze sequence featuring Aimee Janaan Hancock and Catherine Girard. It is one of the most creative and fluid acts in the air that I've seen. Being an aerial artist myself, and working consistently with my partner, I really understand how difficult some of these tricks are and yet they don't come off as "trick-y". All we feel is the development of the collaborators' relationship and its simplicity and beauty. Also very difficult and appealing is the Roue Cyr, basically a large hoop which the performers are inside of and manipulate around (and which was actually invented by Eloize).

The last act is a stunning lyra (aerial hoop) act which becomes even more intriguing when the floor is filled with water and the aerialist swoops across the stage, delicately dipping her toes in the water and allowing drops to fling off her socks as she continues to fly. At this point, the lighting designer, Martin Labrecque, really exhibits his technical panache. The effects with the water onstage and projected onto the cyc are simple but almost poignant and bring the show to a whole other level. From there the troupe begins to play and dance in the water, being silly, showing off, being as human as they possibly can be.

Also worth mentioning is all the music. (How does one shoot off a teeter board, swing from a trapeze, and lift people in the air and play the violin, and all really well?) The score offers a perfect mixture of live and prerecorded music. Even the main pianist gets tossed around while he continues to play doggedly. This perseverance in spite of obstacles and bizarre events makes these players so endearing. No matter what comes up, they manage to bring it into play, incorporating whatever it is without missing a beat -- and always with aplomb and elan. Authentic joy and playfulness is one of the hardest emotions to display in performance. Not only does these performers' joy seem to bubble forth with uninhibited abandon but it also creates an infectious enthusiasm that ripples through the theater.

If you read the circus trade journals, you will notice a lot of discussion about questions like: What is circus? What is the new circus? When is it theater, and when is it circus? Eloize not only captures the essence of really good circus with its amazing acts, but more importantly it manages to capture the heart of circus, the memories and pictures of joy which come from each of our own pasts.

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