The evening opens with the lights up and our compere, a French clown, who warms up the audience in engagingly simple ways. His role is to link the various acts that will follow, appearing and disappearing in the various spaces they create, and providing an emotional counterpoint of humour to the poise and beauty of the acrobatic acts.
Lights down and the main substance of the evening is provided by a group of highly talented Asian acrobats, contortionists, trapeze artists, plate spinners and hoop divers. There were performers in wheels, tumblers, rope-spinners, an ensemble bicycle number and a mesmerisingly graceful female hand-balancer, who spent extended periods on one arm. The solo performances of the evening brought great grace and beauty to the show. Their performances were impressively complex, a testament to the extremes of strength and majesty and human origami of which the body is capable.
Each number is punctuated by dancing girls in a parade of different outfits and it would have been good to see these do more in the way of performance, although the costumes were exciting and promised new flavours, their contributions were disappointingly limited and ended up seeming superfluous. Perhaps the best of their moments was when they appeared in ultraviolet costumes half blacked out against a velvety black background to give the impression of divided halves moving in rather poetic reflections, separating and coming together in synchronistic refinement.
The lighting for the production is superb, technically amplifying the visual spectacle of acrobatic abundance. It adds an extra dimension of grace to the evening, setting the mood music for the various acts, from melancholy through to exuberant.
The show has been designed specifically for theatre venues and thus lacks the intimacy and raw immediacy of a circus tent. It also lacks some of the traditional irreverence and erotic edginess that is characteristic of some circus productions.
This somewhat fastidious approach to family entertainment might blunt the unsettling hazard that can make a circus such a compelling experience but it does not prevent an open-hearted appreciation of the sheer human talent, achievement and teamwork that combine to give this circus its inspirational verve.
Even without fire, magic or real jeopardy Le Grand Cirque engages the audience in a celebration of human potential, with two hours of near flawless execution of traditional acrobatic circus acts. Highlights include jumping though dizzying towers of precariously balanced hoops (something of a commentary on contemporary life perhaps), in which the energy and accuracy were totally breathtaking, and the contortion and balance acts, including a sweetly poised version of balancing with lit candlabra. The male duo balancing act, lit in flourescent pink, reminds us that the best circus performers interpret familiar feats with their own personal flair and it is this that provides the magic. This is an evening of dazzling exhibitionism which is both entertaining and impressive.
- Claire Steele