January 27, 2009By Nick WoodsArchive

Gestalt Circus

cnac 20e/premiere
Third-year circus students keep their heads down. Photo © Philippe Cibille

Working with theater director Georges Lavaudant, former director of the Théâtre de l’Odéon-Théâtre de l’Europe, and choreographer Jean-Claude Gallotta, a dozen 20-something third-year students at the Centre National des Arts du Cirque de Châlons-en-Champagne have put together a thoroughly entertaining and innovative show that rejects the usual disjointedness of traditional circus performances and mixes circus skills, dance, theater and movement.

Instead of throwing individual acts together, this production uses the personalities of the artists as the basis for a work of creative expression that achieves a near-gestalt sense of wholeness.

The show reminded me more of the work of the superlative modern dance group Nederlands Dans Theater II – whose members are all between 17 and 23 years of age and whose youthful exuberance is irresistible – than of any circus show I have seen.

All the key elements of circus are, of course, included in CNAC’s latest (the 20th, hence the name) offering: Chinese and suspended poles, seesaws, aerial silks, tight and soft wires and acrobatics. There is also an amusing modern take on the lion-taming sketch. The roars of the lions are audible and the crack of the lion-tamer’s whip is there, but the animals have been replaced by circus artists on road bikes.

The occasional wobble on the tight and soft wires only adds to the suspense. Jean-Charles Gaume opens and closes the show on the tight wires, his back-flip a breath-taking finale. He showed lots of unsteadiness, but he stayed on his feet, to the sheer delight of the crowd. Sarah Trägner performed a rather splendid headstand on her soft wire, while the young men somersaulting off the seesaws (Sylvain Briani Colin, Josuah Finck and Socrates Minier Matsakis) were also a treat to watch.

In terms of showmanship and rapport with the audience, the male members of the troupe outdo their female colleagues, who come across as rather subdued in comparison.

The show, which is held together with a cinema theme, opens with the flickering of a projector on a screen at the back of the circus ring. Vocal extracts from a number of films provide the soundtrack, along with a wide range of mood-setting music, from melancholic piano to manic drumming. Film buffs will enjoy spotting the references, but the best I could manage was to realize that a performer sporting a trench coat and angel wings was a tribute to Wim Wender’s Wings of Desire.

The fun takes place in a small big top in the park that seats just 430 people, so you are more or less guaranteed a good view. If you want to be right at the front, forget the refreshment tent and queue up straight away outside the gray tent where the main event takes place.

Nick Woods

20e/Première: Espace Chapiteaux, Parc de la Villette, 211, avenue Jean Jaurès, 75019 Paris. Through February 15. Tickets: up to €19. www.villette.com/

© 2009 Paris Update

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