Is it just coincidence that January saw more circuses coming to town than normally come all year long? Cirque Adrenaline performed at the AsiaWorld-Expo Arena from late December 2015 to the first weekend in January, while A Simple Space by Gravity & Other Myths, The Elephant in the Room by Cirque Le Roux, and Close Up created by Yaron Lifschitz were performed during the Udderbelly Festival Hong Kong throughout the month. All of these circus groups are either from Australia or Europe; the only American troupe that performed here in January was Cirque Éloize from Canada, part of the Leisure and Cultural Services Department Circus In Town series.
As one of the leaders in contemporary circus arts, Cirque Éloize brought their recent production iD to the Hong Kong Cultural Centre, from 30 December to 3 of January. Directed by Jeannot Painchaud, iD may not be a very thought provoking piece of theatre, nevertheless, it provides good fun with a variety of circus arts combined with physical performance.
Instead of having performers coming on stage one by one to show off astonishing skills in a typical circus fashion, iD is built on an urban theme with a loose narrative. Performers are not costumed in the usual sequined tights and leotards but wear everyday fashionable street clothes. Rather than seeming like supermen and superwomen from distant planets demonstrating extravagant powers, their dress makes them seem like ordinary people living amongst us in the metropolis, who use circus acts to reveal their character.
To facilitate the contemporary urban setting, iD also uses video projection on a cleverly constructed set that has flexible platforms for bike stunts and climbing, as well as a rather large surface for projection mapping. With different moving images projected on it, the set transforms the space in a very effective way from busy cityscape at night and back alleys filled with graffiti to a spinning vortex and an abstract timeless void – a very colorful backdrop for the performances while at the same time enhancing the work’s narrative.
The original electronic score composed by Jean-Phi Goncalves is also impressive. It lifts the atmosphere throughout the one-and-a-half hour performance, and matches the vibrant digital projection, shaping the stage time and space effectively.
1. The set design shows the busy cityscape at night. Photo provider: Cultural Presentations Section, Leisure & Cultural Services Department
What really impresses about the production is how multi-talented the fifteen performers are. Unlike the usual practice, for example in Chinese circus troupes, where each performer has a very specific special expertise, Cirque Éloize performers all have specific circus skills that they each showcase at least once plus they all dance in at least one scene during the show. Like regular circuses, iD has acrobats, contortionists, and jugglers, to name just a few of the performance skills on display but performers are also adept on the Chinese pole, the Cyr wheel, aerial silk and hoop trapeze, jump-ropes, stunt bikes, in-line skating, trampoline-wall, b-boying, breakdancing, and popping and locking.
2. Performers show how multi-talented they are. Photo provider: Cultural Presentations Section, Leisure & Cultural Services Department
Although the performers showcase so many skills, not all get sufficient time or space in the show. In one scene power stilts are used but only for a short time, and they never reappear. It seems doubtful that to include so many circus acts is a wise choice. Having multidisciplinary performers has its drawbacks - they might be expert in one skill, but not in all.
For example, in the two scenes featuring a female contortionist and a hip-hop boy, the flexible yet poetic moves of the contortionist are amazing, but the boy’s dance moves are less satisfying. It may seem harsh to criticize a circus artist, who probably didn’t have formal dance training, for less than expert dance skills, but the show bills itself as offering dance as well as circus performance, so they should spend more time dance training so performers can gain more confidence.
Overall, however, iD is unquestionably a kaleidoscope of circus arts that yields continuous surprises. Even the predictable act where an audience member is invited on stage to serve as an obstacle for a bike stunt is kept suspenseful and engaging thanks to the tense physical expressions of three upstage cast members.
Besides the spectacular finale on the dynamic trampoline-wall where almost the whole cast jumps up and down, falling from one level to another, other scenes that are particularly enjoyable are the performance on the Chinese pole by Olivier Poitras and the ball-bouncing juggling act by Jean-Philippe Deltell.
Both Chinese pole and juggling are classic entertaining circus acts, but in iD Painchaud modernizes them with the contemporary urban setting that makes them cool. In the pole scene, Poitras demonstrates solid skills on the pole with great stability while, at the back, the ensemble performers take on roles of youngsters wandering and dancing in the street – the two together help make the scene hip and energetic. And in the juggling scene during the first act, Deltell creates excitement bouncing balls between transparent flats in a space that is suggestive of a construction site. With the other performers dressed as workers going about their business amidst the balls tricks, the scene gains an interesting layer on top of the juggling tricks.
Above all, iD is a great family entertainment filled with vibrant performances by skillful artists. I hope the presenter, Leisure and Cultural Services Department, will continue the Circus In Town series, which has two more shows to go in February, in the coming years, introducing more fascinating circus productions to Hong Kong.
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is a Hong Kong base performing arts critic, theatre director and a media producer. He has recently completed his double MA in International Performance Research at the University of Warwick (UK) and University of Arts in Belgrade (Serbia), and currently working as the Project Manager at the International Association of Theatre Critics (Hong Kong).
Date: 3 January 2016
Venue: Grand Theatre, Hong Kong Cultural Centre