Compagnie 111, a circus-trained French company, is caught between earnest art and lively showbiz. In Plan B, the company's last visit to the Queen Elizabeth Hall, the mix of juggling, acrobatics and optical illusion cracked along, piling up jokes and images. In More or Less Infinity, the material is more thinly stretched. The images are still smart, but the company seems determined to squeeze the last drop from each idea.
The new show, which opens the London International Mime Festival, is the third in a series about spatial concepts. Company founder Aurélien Bory and director Phil Soltanoff have already played with cubes and flat planes (which became walls, doors and floors for the performers). This time, they start with the straight line, with props ranging from computer imagery to big sticks.
An early episode looks like a cross between the two. Dozens of plain rods are lowered over the stage, glowing white in the darkness. They're moved in lines: rows, diagonals, zigzags, settling into blocks or whirling like a screensaver.
The images change like the patterns of a kaleidoscope, but one that turns too slowly. The shifts are often slow, insisting on their own abstract cleverness.
At last the rods whisk out of sight, leaving the stage for human performers. Or for bits of human performers. Hands and feet stretch up from slots in the floor; your eye tricks you into imagining a single body for far-flung limbs. A headless body chases a disembodied head, prowling along the lines cut in the stage floor.
Those cuts become entrances, exits, tramlines that allow the performers to glide across the stage. The rods glide about, too, travelling poles that the performers can cling to.
The six performers of Compagnie 111, all dressed in neat suits, can climb like monkeys and balance like acrobats. They run up poles hand over hand, brace their feet and walk as if on stilts. One unfolds himself to stand in the air beside the top of the tallest rod, holding himself up with apparently slack hands. Then he curls himself around the pole and drops like a stone, stopping inches from the floor.
Other episodes are less spectacular. Two men, tied together with a cat's-cradle of elastic, pull apart and spring back together. A pair of spotlights cast shadows on the wall, each directed at a different group of motionless performers. As the lights flash on and off, the shadows seem to dance. It's striking, but Saltanoff exhausts the idea: the dancing idea is repeated in two fight scenes, a group of poses and other dances.
Arno Veyrat's lighting keeps much of the stage in shadow, props and people lit up against the darkness. Video of the performers, projected on to more rods, breaks into shadows.
More or Less Infinity is bright and inventive. You can't doubt its cleverness, but some of the fun has faded along the way.
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