Electronic dance music pulses as the b-boy spins on his head, arms in the air, legs bent like the blades of a helicopter. To the side, a woman bends over backwards, folding herself into a seemingly impossible pose. Slowly she walks backwards towards the dancer, gracefully waving her arms. The contortionist grabs the dancer’s leg and the duo start mirroring each other’s movements.
Later, a cyclist scales wall by jumping up block-like protrusions, using the hip hop beat that the fills the hall. A woman tumbles from the ceiling. A piece of white silk suspended from the top is all the keeps her from falling. In the background, 3D projections light up walls of graffiti in an urban cityscape.
This is the site of Cirque Éloize’s iD production, which is back in South Africa for a second run. The show has been described as “Westside Story gone hip hop circus”. Smaller than its cousin, Cirque du Soleil, the company is made up of 14 multi-disciplinary acrobatic artists doing hand-to-hand, b-boying (or breakdancing), contortion, in-line skating, stilts, trial bike, Chinese poles and aerial silk. The multimedia visuals are reminiscent of noir, science fiction and graphic novels, set to a soundtrack that cleverly blends hip hop, progressive electronic dance music and rock.
But this is no mere show off of acrobatic skill or sound engineering. The story is also a poetic one. Boy meets girl. Rival gangs face off. Love. Jealousy. Life.
This is all set in the public arena of the street, “a spot where one can seek refuge and escape anonymity, express one’s individuality and affirm one’s identity… An area for encounters, a site of passage, a hood where clans confront one another, where friendships are woven. Where love is created, and dissolved,” explains the show’s creator and artistic director, Jeannot Painchaud.
The show’s title “iD“, refers to identity, individuality and idiosyncrasy. It is at times sensual and at others, raw and charged with emotion.
This show has received worldwide acclaim. It’s received twelve medals and prizes at the Festival Mondial duCirque de demain in Paris, France. More than 400 000 people in 50 cities across the world have seen it.
Painchaud is himself a former street performer and Cirque du Soleil artistic cyclist. He founded the Quebec-based Éloize company in 1993 and created this particular show just over five years ago while in Korea. “From my hotel room, I had a view of buildings all around me. And I started to imagine artists jumping all over the city,” he says.
This vision eventually translated into the last act of the show: the daring trampowall stunt. “I was struck by the idea of freedom, the notion of going down into the underground and to let the young generation take over the city,” Painchaud says. The similarities of dance and circus, the way both disciplines are choreographed seemed like a natural marriage.
Nadia Lumley, the British breakdancer and Cyr Wheel artist, says the key difference between Éloize and Cirque du Soleil is its multidisciplinary approach using much fewer performers. “There is a lot of running around, high energy characters and a lot of colour. But there are also a lot of poetic moments. It’s not all just ‘in-your-face’ stunts and explosive material,” she says of iD.
Éloize is the embodiment of how circus has evolved over the past thirty years. Cirque du Soleil invented contemporary circus in the 1980s. Gone were the days of lion tamers, acrobats on elephants and freaky clowns’ maniacal laughter. This nouvelle vague of circus highlighted the extremes of human movement in a theatre setting, full of spectacular lights, big sets, video backdrops and pulsing music.
Painchaud’s youthful troupe brings contemporary culture and art into this mix. Cirque du Soleil presents itself as more highbrow. In contrast, Éloize – which means “heat lightning” in the Acadian French dialect – throws the audience into a public spectacle that is more graphic, frenetic and edgy. It’s fun rather than fancy and will likely appeal to a wider audience than Cirque du Soleil. The production is a thrilling, spectacular and a jaw-dropping experience.
Cirque Éloize iD will run at Montecasino’s Teatro for a limited season opening on Wednesday, 30 November and ending on 24 December. Tickets are on sale at Computicket.
- A version of this article was first published in Sunday Independent on 24 August 2014.