Cirque Eloize, The Lowry, Salford

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The Independent Culture

Cirque Eloize has run away from the circus of slapstick and smells, of red-nosed, floury-faced clowns and lumbering elephants. Formed in 1993 and based in Quebec (the older Cirque du Soleil is in Montreal), the troupe takes its name from a dialect word for "flash lightning". Its latest creation, following the success of Cirque Orchestra, Excentricus and Nomade, is Rain - Comme une pluie dans tes yeux, which is currently on a tour of Europe. Taking a nostalgic look at the themes of memory and childhood, it's fortunately not as sentimental as it sounds.

Cirque Eloize has run away from the circus of slapstick and smells, of red-nosed, floury-faced clowns and lumbering elephants. Formed in 1993 and based in Quebec (the older Cirque du Soleil is in Montreal), the troupe takes its name from a dialect word for "flash lightning". Its latest creation, following the success of Cirque Orchestra, Excentricus and Nomade, is Rain - Comme une pluie dans tes yeux, which is currently on a tour of Europe. Taking a nostalgic look at the themes of memory and childhood, it's fortunately not as sentimental as it sounds.

The director, Daniele Finzi Pasca, sets what little story there is in a theatre where a circus show is in rehearsal. Scenes are played out by characters "like our grandparents", according to Pasca, the men at times emerging as if from sepia-tinted photographs, elegantly attired in Edwardian bathing suits with Brylcreemed hair and little moustaches.

Major acrobatic acts are separated by comic interludes - some whimsical, some veering towards Chaplinesque daftness. The 11-strong troupe use not only their bodies but also their faces and voices to explore their characters and relationships, which become as intriguing as the gravity-defying tricks they pull off. And, while they perform the most astonishing feats, the imperturbable Jocelyn Bigras on piano plays on, even when his instrument, and then he himself, is whirled round and turned upside down, back to front and practically inside out. As deft as the sure-footed acrobats, he doesn't miss a note. Music provides a constant backdrop, with pieces from soulful string quartet to jazzy vocals supporting each act like a safety net.

The show is full of visual surprises: human participants combine to suggest the shapes of frogs, crabs and bats, and build impressive people pyramids. The performers bounce off slack wires, fly high on trapezes, sail effortlessly up sensuous ropes of shimmering material, balance on a rolling globe and spin in ever-increasing circles in a gigantic hoop. The incredible crumpled contortions of Nadine Louis and the all-dangling trio of women - whose bodies and limbs are so intertwined that it's impossible to tell them apart - make it clear that they have more muscular power in their left buttocks than most of us have in our entire bodies.

The collective spirit of the performers is most evident in the incredible synchronised sequences, especially the precisely timed double-dives off a teeter-board that trigger other performers to spring, twirl and, at one point, disappear high into the wings. From the dreary November rain outside to the fresh glistening sprays of the stuff inside, water provides an opportunity for slow-motion swimming, swooping dives and crazy, splashy ball games.

Sophisticated but not slick, slight but not superficial and all beautifully choreographed, Rain - Comme une pluie dans tes yeux is a circus with atmosphere rather than attitude.

Festival Theatre, Edinburgh (0131-529 6000) to 27 Nov; Millennium Centre, Cardiff (0870 040 2000) 8 Dec to 8 Jan

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