No great superhero can save the world without a perfectly choreographed routine. Bane and Batman, the Fantastic Four and Superman all fight evil in a series of effortless steps designed for maximum hair flicking and engine revving.
And the power of dance to combat oppression is at the heart of Cirque Éloize’s touring show, Cirkopolis, coming to Abu Dhabi at du Forum, Yas Island from September 17-19 and Dubai's World Trade Centre September 23-26.
Unlike traditional circus acts, the company of 12 acrobats deliver darkly philosophical messages about the tyranny of industrial revolution that is reminiscent of romantic poet William Blake. In the stunning show, the cast rebel against monotony, reinvent themselves and challenge the limits of the factory city, Cirkopolis.
Performing within an inventive stage design, and accompanied by an original musical score and unique video projections, the characters live in a world where fantasy defies reality.
Cirkopolis was imagined as a crossroads, says artistic director and co-director Jeannot Painchaud. ‘A crossroads between imagination and reality, between individuality and community, between limits and possibilities.
‘The show is driven by the poetic impulse of life, the physical prowess of the circus and its humour, at once serious and light-hearted. Entering Cirkopolis is all about letting go and allowing yourself to be borne aloft by hope,’ he says.
In the imposing city stage design, giant gears and dark portals symbolise mechanisms that crushes individuality. As the story unfolds, Cirque Éloize’s jugglers, contortionists and aerial artists defy the encircling gloom and magically overcome routine through music and humour.
We go behind-the-scenes with Cirkopolis' artistic director.
Behind-the-scenes with Jeannot Painchaud
This is your very latest show in Abu Dhabi, what new and exciting additions can we expect?
At Cirque Éloize, we constantly strive for excellence. We create shows that are unique in many ways. Cirkopolis, created in 2012, has already performed in 20 different countries around the world. It has won many awards and collected great reviews. We have just completed many weeks of rehearsals with new artists who have just joined the cast. Changes in the cast pushes us to constantly work on the production, to improve it, or to adapt it to the talents we recruit for our replacements. You will see a troupe eager to perform in front of a crowd in Abu Dhabi. For some of the cast, it will be their first show on the road, which is very exciting.
More than 4,000 performances in over 40 countries! How do your athletes deal with injuries and wear and tear?
There are ten performers in Cirkopolis and every one of them is a star to us at Cirque Éloize. The performers are multidisciplinary and even if they have specialties and specific disciplines, they will participate in all the group numbers throughout the show. Each performer has its own routine preparing for the show. The key to preventing injury is proper preparation. We will always have rehearsals on stage when necessary, but if we are performing eight times a week, they isn't much room in the schedule for extra work. We always provide necessary treatment to our artists and will never force them to perform if they are unfit or injured.
Why does the show convey a dark city that crushes individuality? Is this a metaphor for the world today?
This is the premise behind the show, the narrative plot that guided our original creation. We know it may sound dark and serious, but at the end of the day, it’s completely different. The world of Cirkopolis and main character Ashley evolves into something fun, colourful and chaotic, an environment filled with feelings of love, trust, and companionship. Cirkopolis is a little moment of escape from our busy individual lives, I hope that our guests will understand the concept.
Have any of your artists overcome obstacles to become acrobats and to follow their true ambitions?
Well I can't talk for them, but just becoming a circus performer is already quite unorthodox. Imagine telling your parents that you want to become a juggler, a contortionist, or even a clown! I myself became a circus performer at a very young age when there wasn’t much work for such artists. What I find amazing these days is that this path is accepted more and there are great circus schools and troupes all over the world now offering training to those wishing to pursue this career.
Cirkopolis fights against the factory city – is this intended as a symbol of the industrial revolution?
The various characters in the show rebel against the monotony of the factory city. They make sure this grey, dark world of soulless machines and monotonous work isn’t what the main character should be part of. We possess the most advance pieces of technology at home, at work or even in our pockets, but we are still amazed by what the human body can accomplish. That is what’s important to me. I hope we never lose this.
The Cirkopolis character is about a man who dreams of dancing – what's your advice for the audience to follow their own dreams?
Follow your dreams, create stuff, explore new ideas, dare to be different, love, develop friendships, be open to the world.
Finally, why must we see Cirkopolis in Abu Dhabi?
Because, it’s fun, it’s poetic, it will make you forget about yourself and anything worrisome. It might make you dream and hopefully it will inspire you.
Éloize is a word that comes from the Magdalen Islands, Quebec and means ‘flashes of heat lightning seen on the horizon’. An inspiration for the troupe’s founding members, this lightning symbolises the heat and energy which feeds the troupe’s spirit.
The Brainchild: Jeannot Painchaud
In June 1984 Jeannot Painchaud left his native Magdalen Islands to see the tall ships in Quebec City. On the way, he stopped in Gaspé where Cirque du Soleil was presenting its first show. In Montreal, he discovered the National Circus School, and so began his love affair with the unique, mysterious, exotic and totally wonderful world of the circus. Jeannot took up street performance such as juggling, uni-cycling and acrobatic cycling, and performed on the streets for 12 years until founding Cirque Eloize, which soon became the sister company to Cirque du Soleil. An adventurer at heart, Jeannot believes that risk is the core of every good number, and that if spectators hold their breath, the show has succeeded. In 2006, Jeannot was also in charge of acrobatics at the closing ceremonies for the Olympic Games in Torino, Italy.
What heart stopping moves can we expect at Cirkopolis?
Chinese pole These are vertical poles which acrobats climb, slide and pose on, and often look as if they have invisible velcro. The most famous trick is ‘the flag’ when the artist hangs straight out from the pole with his hands. Enormous core strength is required for this.
Banquine Two people form a base while another ‘flyer’ tumbles and turns in the air, using the bases hands’ as a spring board for somersaults and aerial tricks.
Teeterboard Otherwise known as the Korean plank, this apparatus resembles a playground seesaw that catapults daredevils into the abyss, prompting a starry display of aerial somersaults that often land on stilts or even more ambitiously, a human pyramid.
German wheel Like a hamster in a ball, acrobats climb inside a large wheel to perform various gymnastics as they roll away.
Dance trapeze Ropes and bars form a swaying triangle for performers to spin, swing and ‘dance’ through the air and complete leaps of faith.