Cirque de la Vie

October 2, 2015

Every week, APA provides opportunities to see a “spectacle,” or a form of entertainment  that allows us to see a little more of French art and culture. We have been to a concert, a dance performance and a vaudeville comedy show. But last night we saw something a little different, something this bird found incredibly moving.

The show was a French “cirque,” which by no means entails clowns, elephants or flaming hoops. If anything, this was an acrobatic and artistic representation of human life, something only the French would think to create.

The show begins in complete darkness as we hear the creaking of what we later learn to be a large platform lowering to the stage on cables carrying six performers. The three men and three women then begin a series of interactions with the platform as it tilts, spins, rocks, and swings. The platform never changes, but the way the performers are forced to move on and around it changes constantly, and we as the audience must watch them adapt to the different ways they use to stay on and around the platform. At one point they were hanging on to the platform, tilted to a 90º angle, by one arm.

To sum up, I have to say it was hard on my soul.

Outside of being incredibly nervous for the acrobats despite knowing they are professionals, I become overwhelmed by the show’s symbolism. It becomes abundantly clear that the platform is life, and the different ways we as humans sometimes give up and slip off, have to fight to stay on, sometimes leave each other behind or help each other back up, and exist in a constant state of change which we have no control over. Life spins, rotates, knocks you down, pushes you around and eventually kills you. However, life is also exciting, nerve-wracking and includes overcoming great obstacles. Maybe not the specific obstacle of jumping onto an enormous swinging platform in front of an audience, but the metaphor was clear.

The show ends with each person “dying,” or falling off the platform, because they can no longer hold on. They even represent grief by attempting to push their “dead” back onto the platform, but they soon realize that holding onto something that is deadweight will only prevent them from saving themselves.

The show is incredibly minimalist, with no curtains, no backdrop, and only a few songs. Often the acrobats perform in silence. I find it incredible that something so complex and multidimensional is considered a “cirque” by French standards. But I suppose I know now there are many ways to accomplish the death-defying acts and excitement we look for in a circus, this one just leaves you with something to think about afterwards.

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