When the curtain rises, the stage is a blur of muted greys, of bland beiges. Bodies trundle to and fro with shuffling urgency to a discordant jumble of notes – the soundtrack as dissonant and buzzing as the crowd itself. The monotony of city life and the stark existence of the working class person’s crushing loss of individuality are brought to life in Cirkopolis, though the concept is not new to the eye of theatre. Long have the arts criticized the normalization of the 9-to-5 work day of endless, meaningless paperwork. This show brings to life the quiet flame of the human spirit in splashes of colour and life amongst the drab, dull greys of institutional life.
A contemporary Cirque Éloize brainchild, directed by Dave St-Pierre and Jeannot Painchaud, is a foray into the inner playfulness and inherent bright spirit of humanity, which even under the pressure of enforced societal norms spills forth in the same way a dandelion might spring from concrete. Winner of the 2014 Drama Desk Award for Unique Theatrical Experience, it does not disappoint visually. Cyr wheel, Chinese Pole and German Wheel are used to great effect, and a blend of hand balancing and juggling serve as entertaining interludes between acts. The German Wheel in particular is a high point, with no less than six performers weaving and winding their way in, through and around the apparatus with incredible ease.
Overall enjoyable, Cirkopolis remained playful and safe within the established practises of modern circus as we know and love it. Antonin Wicky stands out in particular with his quality of movement, particularly on the Chinese Pole in his duo act with the stellar Alexie Maheu. Their stage energy and presence made for an entertaining exploration of their apparatus. The floor acrobatic work was fluid and seamless. With effortless hand balancing acts, the production made good use of its stage space, with Colin Andre-Heriaud almost literally single-handedly stealing the stage with his masterful balancing skills.
Cirkopolis makes good use of its score for the most part, with low-fidelity, buzzing intro music swelling into quirky electronic beats that enhance more than detract from the experience. Mechanical, drab projections serve as a poignant and sometimes moving backdrop to the action, always enhancing and never distracting or detracting. With very little narrative, those who walk into this particular show looking for a storyline are bound to be disappointed – the artists work within specific tones in a vaguely disjointed way, but the result is, regardless, an entertaining blur of talent and hard work.
The choreographed chaos was executed almost perfectly even on opening night – not one body seemed out of place or in the way, and the subtle use of props made for some very entertaining clowning moments. In particular, one character’s fantastical dance with a dress on a coat rack was adorable, funny, and skilfully manoeuvred. Thoroughly enjoyable and accessible, Cirkopolis ends on a joyful note that leaves the audience with the sense that regardless of the pressures and depressions that one can be thrown into and battered with, there exists always that bright glimmer of hope, the human spirit.