by: JK Clarke

It is said about magicians that one is only as good as his patter. He may perform amazing feats of illusion, but without proper buildup and presentation the majesty of the trick tends to fall flat. It follows, then, that the same can be said of acrobatics. There is no question that the performers of Cirque Eloize have talents beyond comprehension: they bend, they soar in the air, somersault above the heads of their peers, juggle bowling pins in a large chaotic circle with astonishing skill and ease . . . And yet, somehow their latest show “Cirkopolis” lacks the thematic spark worthy of the feats it contains.

The title of this production, “Cirkopolis,” is a play on the word “metropolis.” The performance’s theme is emergence from the drudgery and monotony of mechanical city/work life.  A computer-generated video  backdrop (which looks like it was made with state of the art computer graphics — in 2003) shows spinning cogs and endless skyscrapers, past which trudge our tired, almost dehumanized players, in long grey coats and bland fedoras. The imagery is quite evocative of dark, brooding (and decades-old) films like Brazil or 1984.  The show’s “ringmaster” (for lack of a better term), sits at a desk, rhythmically stamping papers from a stack that not only never ends, but grows higher with each passing minute. But wait! From inside the monotonous document processing pattern emerges a rhythm of creativity; a spark of life and spasms of acrobatic wonder! It is a useful metaphor, and one that conveniently sets up the featured tricks, but it is also a tired analogy, one that has been employed — particularly in dance and performance art — again and again.

Make no mistake: the circus acts of Cirkopolis are breathtaking. Every member of the troupe is talented beyond measure and their stunts are tremendously entertaining. But the storyline that knits the acts together is so dull that even these great performances never truly draw us into the production. Does it matter? Probably not. For the crowd is absolutely transfixed by the body (Angelica Bongiovanni’s) spinning dizzily round and round in a Cyr Wheel; or the woman (Lauren Herley) dangling precariously some 30 feet above the stage, held only by her foot twisted around a thick measure of rope; or the troupe taking turns flying and summersaulting over the others after being launched, as in a cartoon strip, by someone leaping onto the other end of a teeter-totter. The theme is irrelevant when the tricks leave jaws agape. Artistic Director Jeannot Painchaud’s framing of these events plays second fiddle to them, and better that they be the focus: too much is at risk. We thrive on the danger and the acrobat’s triumph over it.


Cirque Eloize’s Cirkopolis. Through January 5, 2014 at the NYU Skirball Center for the Performing Arts (566 LaGuardia Place at Washington Square South).