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BWW Reviews: Cirque Eloize Makes Providence Debut with Inconsistent CIRKOPOLIS

Cirque Éloize's newest touring production, Cirkopolis, opens in a grim, dreary, industrial environment, where individuals serve as mere cogs in the great corporate machine. Originality and creativity are quashed down until one desk worker, monotonously rubber-stamping an endless pile of paperwork, allows a sliver of individuality to color the gears of the daily grind.

Cirkopolis starts with a solid premise, and the show combines the circus arts Éloize is known for with dance, clowning, original music, and theatricality. Unfortunately, these elements never fully blend, and though Éloize's metropolis forms a cohesive setting, it fails to develop into an immersive world.

This show is only a month old (having premiered at Delaware's DuPont Theater at the beginning of October), which may partially account for the unevenness of the production. While Cirkopolis has some solid concepts and interesting visuals, the show struggles to define itself from curtain to curtain.

Éloize's performers give their best effort and are engaged at all times, but with a cast of only 12 people, multitasking takes its toll on proficiency. There are dancers, tumblers, and contortionists aplenty, yet when a specific circus apparatus is spotlighted, performances are competent though not masterful. While each member of the company demonstrates training and skills, few if any appear to be specialists at a particular discipline.

It seems as though Cirque Éloize sidelined the "circus" in Cirkopolis in order to prove the breadth of its artistic, theatrical vision. From hand-to-hand to aerial straps to Spanish web, the choreography feels repetitive and uninspired. Even some of the more engaging acts fail to shine as brightly as they should.

Juggling, for example - which features almost the entire cast - has good energy and a great concept: heated words being tossed to and fro at a tense boardroom meeting translate into literal batons flying back and forth through the air. Still, the juggling is too often interrupted for a clowning prank or dance break, which interferes with the momentum of the act and loses the emphasis on the circus specialty.

Likewise the Chinese Pole starts off well; artists Maude Arseneault and Mikaël Bruyère-L'Abbé have an engaging chemistry and perform some solid acrobatic skills. But like juggling, the focus of the act wavers with too many distractions. The Chinese Pole is central to the overall presentation, but serves as a featured highlight for only part of the act.

The Cyr wheel - an apparatus created by Cirque Éloise co-founder, Daniel Cyr - is presented twice during the show, and while the artists' endurance is impressive (especially on long-duration spins), again skills repeat with little variation.

The most memorable act in Cirkopolis comes through the masterful yet subtle clowning of Ashley Carr. His routine begins when the metropolitan workers remove their suits and trench coats from a metal rack, leaving only a red dress hanging on the bar. As Carr begins to interact with it, picturing a charming romance between himself and his imaginary lady, the pacing, characterization, and gentle humor all come together perfectly to create a bittersweet and touching performance.

The banquine is well done; while the big, high-flying tricks usually associated with the act are few, the more meditative and dancerly approach chosen fittingly enhance the character of the number. The diabolos act shows promise as well, though a couple of mishaps with the equipment (also a problem for the juggling troupe) slowed the momentum of an otherwise standout performance.

Éloize's costumes primarily match the business-like setting of the show: stiff suits, overcoats, and fedoras, all in drab shades of gray. As the characters start to express their individuality, subtle coloration seeps in to their clothing in the form of a bright red necktie or electric blue jacket lining.

By the end, however, the women's costumes lose direction. Though female cast members appear in filmy dresses during the more ethereal, imaginative sequences in the show, the finale seems to represent a breakthrough for all of the characters within the physical office environment. The men are still in business suits, but they discard their jackets, roll up their shirtsleeves, and loosen their colorful ties. The women, incongruously, appear in tight, color-blocked bodysuits and athletic wear while showing conspicuous amounts of leg.

Cirkopolis' score is original to the production, but the troupe does not tour with live musicians or singers. Like the rest of the presentation, the music has its ups and downs. Some of the English-language lyrics feel overly poetical: "You left a shoe/In my echo-filled cell" as an angst-filled example. Still, the jazzy number paired with juggling brings up the house energy, and the ballad accompanying the banquine matches the pensive mood of the piece. Chinese pole and diabolos also fare well with playful, lighthearted music that enhances the characterization and choreography.

Cirque Eloize's Cirkopolis plays a limited engagement at the Providence Performing Arts Center through Saturday, November 2, 2013. Ticket prices range from $38-68, and group rates are available; the "Friends and Family" four-pack code is FF4P (contact box office for details). To purchase tickets, contact the PPAC by phone at (401) 421-ARTS (2787), visit the box office located at 220 Weybosset Street, Providence, RI, or book online at Tickets are also available through the FirstWorks website at

Photo courtesy Cirque Éloize.

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From This Author Veronica Bruscini