Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Cirque Eloize's Nebbia

First of all, I am embarrassed. I missed half of the Cirque Eloize show last Thursday night because I arrived at the theater at 8pm, the usual start time for performances at the Mondavi Center, only to find out that the show started at 7pm. Lesson: check your tickets before going to the theater, even if you're a regular.

I was really looking forward to this show too! As a former circus performer, I always delight in watching different acts of acrobatic derring do, and Cirque Eloize's last show, Rain, mesmerized me with its poetic imagery and innovative displays of skill. In that show, I fell in love with the juggler, Stephane, who deftly maneuvered various objects with the grace of Fred Astaire. I was excited to see him back in Nebbia, Cirque Eloize's latest production, which enjoyed a three night run at Jackson Hall last week.

I am told missed a good act, full of trapeze, aerial silk, clown work and some narrative exposition which might have elucidated why Stephane was in tremors in a tutu at the end. The second act opened with a playful trampoline piece where only a tight space of air between the trampoline and the ceiling was lit. This allowed the dancers to appear continuously in mid-flight - masking the work done on the bed of trampoline. It also allowed one dancer to go missing from time to time as he bounced out of the frame and clung to a trapeze. Slowly, the frame was widened, allowing us to see more and more of the action, and eventually revealing how this dancer was able to defy gravity.

In another vignette, two performers performed a duet on the xylophone, reminiscent of a Daffy/Donald Looney Toons piano battle. At one point, multi-colored balls started to fall from the sky. Dropping sparsely at first, they eventually became a deluge, until the performers were slipping and tripping on them as they attempted to continue playing. This was probably the most beautiful image of the show – more striking than the final snowfall it foreshadowed. Unfortunately, nothing happened with the balls afterwards – a few characters just came on and swept them away. By contrast, in Rain, after a deluge of rain, the performers slip and slide in merriment and glee across the wet stage.

Several other vignettes were sprinkled into the work, including hula hoops, an aerial apparatus (way too brief), and clowning, but one of the most memorable acts was the contortionist. Now, I’ve seen many contortion acts, but I’ve never seen anything like this. The best way I can describe it is extreme yoga. Rather than bending in half and touching his head to his butt (as most contortionists do), This performer twisted himself into binds I never thought possible. The situations he got himself into were so intense, many audience members were groaning in agony just from watching. I had to laugh.

Overall, the show was beautiful, but it didn’t capture my imagination as much as Rain.

Shameless plug: Come see Oklahoma! This weekend and next at Jackson Hall – I’m coming out of retirement to do a little singing and dancing.

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