It is the Industrial Revolution of the 19th century. The Seeker (Eligiusz Skoczylas) is our central figure. He sets out on a journey of discovery to find the tiny, amazing otherworld that exists where anything is possible, confined only by the limits of your imagination.
This is the loose framework on which hang twelve acts that astound and delight. Cirque’s ability to give new life to age-old circus acts is its hallmark. In this production, Cirque does things with bicycles I never knew one could do, including riding a bike on a trampoline and using one as a platform for a trapise-like act.
This world is inhabited by a delightful and unusual cast of characters that represents the contents of a curio cabinet during the industrial revolution. Mr. Microcosmos (Karl L’Écuyer) is the embodyment of technological advancement. His costume evokes memories of steam engines and the creation of the first massive buildings.
Mini Lili (Antanina Satsura), a petit woman standing just 3.2 feet tall and weighing just 50 pounds (one of the ten smallest people in the world), lives inside Mr. Microcosmos’s large distended belly. We first meet her as she pops up out of it like a jack-in-the-box. This character is an elegant curiosity used as window dressing as she evokes a tiny Marlena Dietrich.
There is Nico the Accordian Man (Nico Baixas) whose costume resembles the bellows of an old-fashioned camera. Nico Baixas pulls double-duty. In the second act he creates an entire story using just his hands and fingers. These are captured by a close-up live camera that then projects them onto a hot air baloon that hangs above the stage.
Klara the Telegraph of the Invisible (Ekaterina Pirogovskaya) represents the late century’s early forays into long-distance communication. She positions her skirt over her head as though receiving a transmission.
All the expected circus acts are there, but approached with a fresh take. The contortionists, slither and contort themselves like a pile of eels on a restrictive 750-pound mechanical hand. A balancing act with precariously balanced stacked chairs begins on the stage and soon, we see that the scene is simultaneously played out upside down on the ceiling. This act is brilliant, clever and daring.
In Rola Bola, James Eulises Gonzalez takes this traditional act a step or two further. In addition to balancing a board on stacked cylinders, Gonzalez does it on the top of the airplane he just flew on stage. Once up on multiple cylinders the platform rises and lowers, and swings like a pendulum, without a single blip on Gonzalez’s part.
Cirque gives us an Invisible Circus, reminiscent of the old flea circus. A small center ring is set up on stage. As acts are announced, the stage curtain on the upstage side of the ring bursts open with the entry of each invisible act. A unicycle comes to life on a tight-rope with no one on it. A teeter board moves, one side down, the other side up and visa verca as the two invisible acrobats toss each other into the air.
There is a set of Siamese twins (Roman Tomanov and Vitali Tomanov), tied together in the first act. They are set free in the second act, even if only for a few minutes. They soar above the ring in Areal Straps, celebrating their individuality, only to come back together in the end.
The Comic Act starring Facundo Gimenez takes what would have originally been a clown act in traditional circuses and gives it a fresh take. His physicality is just brilliant. He pulls a date out of the audience (a plant I believe based on show photos) and proceeds to woo her. As he does this, he is constantly being interrupted as he transforms into a cat using a litter box and vomiting up a fur ball, a parrot, and a Tyrannosaurus rex. The man is funny.
The Acro-Net act was eye-popping as the acrobats create an underwater environ. When off the net, the acrobats with fins flip flop around as… well… fish out of water. Once they get onto the net, they are back in the salty brine flying through the air/water with ease. As one member bounces at center stage, the rest of the company bounces on the edge of the trampoline to give the acrobat ever greater heights until they nearly hit the top of the yellow and blue grand chapiteau.
Yo-Yos features Chih-Min Tuan spinning two yo-yos simultaneously in such a way that would inspire any parent to say “cut that out or you will put an eye out.”
A group of acrobats known as Banquine amaze with their ability to stack themselves one atop the other. Just when you think they couldn’t possibly support one more person, they toss another acrobat up there. And yes, I really mean toss. They fly up into the air with such ease that it looks like a film of a tower of acrobats dismounting that is being run backwards.
The show was born from the obviously clever mind of the show’s director and writer, Michel Laprise. Designers Stéphane Roy (set and prop design), Philippe Guillotel (costume design), Jean-Michel Caron (sound design), Jacques Boucher (sound design), Martin Lebrecque (lighting design), and Eleni Uranis (makeup design) have teamed up to create one big magical world that would be nothing if it were not for each of their contributions. As in other Cirque shows, the music by Bob & Bill and Raphaël Beau is mystical and rhythmically entrancing.
This is by far the most thrilling show that Cirque has produced in some time. It gives us permission and a chance to dream and takes us away from the ugly world that is the 2016 presidential election.