Theater Review: ‘Cirkopolis’

Flying wonderfully high above the masses
January 1, 2014 5:17 am Last Updated: December 31, 2013 7:17 pm

NEW YORK—The importance of the individual and the innate need to be a part of something—these two ideas form the backdrop of the absolutely dazzling Cirkopolis.

The acrobatic enterprise of jugglers, contortionists, and performers is entertainment suitable for all ages. Presented by Cirque Éloize, it’s now at the NYU Skirball Center for a sadly all-too-limited run.

The setting for the story is a nameless metropolitan city, one with gleaming towers rising toward the sky and endlessly grinding gears and moving parts below. These images, brought forth by some very striking 3-D projections, are designed by Robert Massicotte and Alexis Laurence.

The images call to mind the 1927 silent film “Metropolis” and show how the sheer weight of the city can crush the spirit and soul out of those who toil within its confines. This point is evidenced by large groups of people all dressed the same, reading their newspapers while seeing nothing of what goes on around them as they go about their business.

In one of the city’s nameless offices is a man (Ashley Carr, billed as a “Clown Character”) whose sole purpose seems to be stamping each piece of paper in an endless pile of documents on his desk.

As the stacks of paper grow ever higher and the sheer monotony of the job becomes evident, the audience starts to see sparks of life beginning to emerge: Office drones suddenly climb onto and leap off filing cabinets; a female coworker does some contortions right on his desk while he looks on in delighted amazement.

Whether these images are in the Clown Character’s mind as a form of silent rebellion or whether these figures are actually other trapped souls trying to find their own way to stand out from the masses, is open to question.

Whatever the answer, there’s no denying that the various acrobatic feats presented are wonderful to behold. A team of office workers starts juggling with bowling pins, tossing them around in a variety of combinations; a woman in a red dress twirls inside a Cyr Wheel (a large metal hoop); people climb up and dive down a large rope suspended from the ceiling; and others jump onto a teeterboard—a kind of seesaw—and send coworkers flying and somersaulting across the room.

Humor and continuity also figure into the story, making it more than just another circus-type show. Some of the lighter moments include a well-built gentleman who has all the female workers swooning as the Clown Character watches in bemused envy. There’s even a bit of unrequited love present when he attempts to romance a dress hanging on a rack.

Through it all, we see this man desperately wanting to be a part of something bigger than himself. One has to wonder, though, if by joining what he sees unfolding he is simply sacrificing one type of conformity for another.

Another good point in the show is its careful and expressive use of color. Initially filled with drab corporate gray, both on the performers as well as the few props present, various eye-catching hues quickly appear in the different sequences, including garments of purple, yellow,  and the aforementioned red. The lack of color elsewhere makes those who wear them stand out all the more.

The different costumes by Liz Vandal all look good, from the sharp cut of the business suits to a purple outfit worn by one of the performers held aloft by several of the office workers.

The music by Stéfan Boucher, both vocal and instrumental, is excellent, as is the often intricate choreographic work by Dave St-Pierre. St-Pierre also flawlessly directs the production with Jeannot Painchaud.

Fun indeed, with deeper meaning if one chooses to look for it, Cirkopolis is definitely worth checking out this holiday season.

Also in the cast are Maude Arseneault, Angelica Bongiovonni, Dominique Bouchard, Mikaël Bruyère-L’Abbé, Samuel Charlton, Myriam Deraîche, Lauren Herley, Reuben Hosler, Ugo Laffolay, Yann Leblanc, Frédéric Lemieux-Cormier, and François Saussus.

Cirkopolis
NYU Skirball Center
566 LaGuardia Place
Tickets: 212-352-3101, 866-811-4111, or visit www.nyuskirball.org
Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes
Closes: Jan. 5, 2014