© 2012 Productions Neuvart/Valerie Remise

We are less than a decade from Fritz Lang's Metropolis. His futuristic city, powered by vast underground machines, was set in 2026, and yet it still provides the blueprint for a dystopian tomorrow in our collective imagination.

Cirkopolis takes its inspiration from Lang's expressionist masterpiece, and tries to tie it into our own world. It shows a shadowy city governed by work – pen pushers at desks juggling stacks of paper, commuters in fedoras charging through the streets, muscular men hauling metal underground. The sense, always, is of human bodies as machines, indistinguishable from the city around them. It looms overhead in vast CGI visuals: gleaming tower blocks and dank caverns and huge churning cogs.

Canada's Cirque Éloize split circus in two. Their collective routines work like clockwork, subsuming individuals into an anonymous group, while individual acts break free into airy moments of human expression. That's how cities feel: the claustrophobia of crowds press down on the self.

The split speaks of labour and leisure. A complex juggling act becomes a crowded trading floor, as 10 tellers chuck a cloud of white clubs back and forth, then Anna Lewandowska turns in a delightful Cyr routine in red, gliding around like a human spinning top. Six men in vests throw a double wheel between them, spiralling over and under it like human cogs, before Arata Urawa's diabolo seems to hang in the air like a breeze. The contrast, always, is between the weight of work and the lightness of being.

That centres around Ashley Carr's distractable clown, hustled and bustled by his bosses and peers. Again and again, he floats away into fantasy and directors Jeannot Painchaud and Dave St-Pierre infuse a dreaminess into their acts. Three women bend and flex around his metal desk, its solidity at odds with the expressionism of their bodies.

However, half an hour in, the frame drops away and Cirkopolis settles into a parade of circus skills. It's as if it forgets its sense of purpose, dropping Lang's shadowy world for the bright lights of a television talent show. You can find metaphors in Antonin Wicky and Alexie Maheu's Chinese Pole duet, their suicide-like plummets and their competitive climbs, but mostly it's designed to draw your applause. Its colourful finale, an exuberant teeterboard display using filing cabinets for height, draws a line from Lang's gloom to the fun-filled, open-plan offices of today, but by then, Cirkopolis has dropped its critique for a crowd-pleaser.

Cirkopolis runs at EICC until 28 August, times vary.

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