back to Flash Reviews
Flash Review 1, 7-15:
Artistes or Artists?
Les Colporteurs: It Moves, but is it Moving?
By Jody Sperling
Copyright 2000 Jody Sperling
It's hard to think after
a circus. Your eyes are still full of tricks. You feel dizzy from
the sheer spectacle of it, and from craning your head to look at
sailing acrobats. Even an arty, French "nouveau" circus, like the
Les Colporteurs seen last night in the Lincoln Center Festival 2000,
has this effect. I'm thinking, what did I just see? Okay, it's coming
back to me now in pieces.... There was that steely-eyed tight-rope
walker, David Dimitri. I recall now his soft-pedaled, downcast determination,
his ceaselessly waving arms, his fancy footwork. How he slowly upped
the ante. First walking, seeming to totter, then adding in fancy
footwork, then some light jumps, then jumps with beats, and, oh
yes, as almost an afterthought a back flip or two.
Let's see, what else
was there? A woman (Kathleen Reynolds), who was rolled up in a tablecloth
upon a table. Others were play-eating around her and then, as if
it were a new-fangled family ritual, they hung her from a chandelier.
Two men proceeded to prod her with long metal sticks, setting her
into circular motions. Eventually, she squirmed free of the cloth
and began a whirling, spiraling dance, her body skimming close to
the table and the heads of the two men.
"Filao" had twelve such
"movements," each one an idea spun out. According to the program,
the evening-length work was inspired by Italo Calvino's "Baron of
the Trees." But this was more an impressionistic than narrative
treatment of the story. The most direct reference, aside I suppose
from the tight-rope walker who could have been the story's anarchist-protagonist,
seemed to be in the numerous branches which served as props and
were variously arrayed. The whole evening begins with an acrobat
making a sort of teepee from the branches and then stepping on top
of this precarious structure. There is lots of such inventiveness
in "Filao." In one vignette, aerialist Sophie Kantorowicz plays
a marionette controlled by ropes. She is suspended mid-air and twirled
around by ropes in the hands of four, earthbound men. It's a striking
The evening piles up
these striking images. There's a breathiness in watching the traditional
high-flying act in movement eight. There's fun in these acrobats'
fearlessness. Midway through her solo trapeze act (in a later movement),
Linda Peterson clips herself into a harness with seeming reluctance.
We're in a small tent with no net and she's just been dangling up
Although I left the Damrosch
Park Tent last evening with a warm feeling, I don't have a sense
of having been moved or really startled, despite all this good stuff.
As fearless as Peterson is, she's still an acrobat doing tricks.
She's an "artiste," but perhaps not quite an artist (or maybe I
mean the other way around).
The French nouveau circus
promises something more than a plain-old circus. At it's best, the
"nouveau" offers inventiveness and drama plus the satisfaction of
the old circus -- daring, dazzling virtuosity and flight. But the
"nouveau" also has a pretentious side. The program notes promise
a reflection on "universal issues of transcendence and freedom."
And the title, oy. It's a play on the French for high-wire (Fil-a-haut),
it's also somebody's kid, and the name for a kind of tree in the
Caribbean. In short, it's a nonsensical term that's supposed to
mean a lot. In general, I found this evening more satisfying and
less pretentious than the program given by Les Arts Sauts at last
year's Lincoln Center Festival. (Although that program had its merits
too.) I think the main issue facing these and the many other Nouveau
circuses cropping up is how to deal with the reconciling of art
and tricks. The truth of the matter is that we all enjoy watching
feats executed, and the director's job is to find a way to make
those feats seem necessary.
Les Colporteurs continues
at Damrosch Park Tent through July 26, with no performances on July
18 or 23.
Jody Sperling is a dancer,
choreographer, and writer based in New York City. On Thursday, along
with Terry Borton, Sperling gives a presentation on "Loie Fuller
and the Magic Lantern" at the Dancing in the Millenium conference
in Washington, D.C.
back to Flash Reviews