Jeannot Painchaud has certainly earned his spurs. The 40something Montreal resident was the architect of the spectacular acrobatics performed in the closing ceremonies of the 2006 Winter Olympic Games in Turin, Italy, but he is predominantly kept gainfully employed as artistic director of Cirque Eloise. It is in the latter guise that Painchaud will visit this country to oversee six performances of the troupe’s Cirkopolis production at the Performing Arts Center in Tel Aviv on October 20 to 25).
The audiences will witness a breathtaking demonstration of circus arts, theater and dance of the very highest level as a dozen acrobats and multidisciplinary artists present a fast-moving show set against a highly stylized urban backdrop.
Cirkopolis has been doing the rounds of the world for a couple of years now and has received enthusiastic responses from critics and audiences alike.
The accrued stage time notwithstanding, Painchaud says the show is not designed to evolve incrementally and that, if anything, the execution of the work has become more precise rather than breaking off in improvisational tangent trajectories.
“This is a physical show with no text, so with time it has become better and better, with some more subtle things,” he explains. “The people in the show have become more used to the movement, so they can concentrate on the interpretation. It has evolved in a good way. The more they perform, the more the show is strong and clear.”
The theme of Cirkopolis has been explored before. The cold inhumanity of the machinecontrolled ambience of such film masterpieces as Fritz Lang’s 1927 iconic Metropolis and Terry Gilliam’s 1985 dystopian Brazil, as well as Charlie Chaplin’s achingly delightful Modern Times from 1936, spring readily to mind.
But even with a thematic springboard, it took quite some time to bring the show’s concept into tangible reality.
“For me it took about a year, from the original idea to the casting, and four to six months’ work with the artists,” says Painchaud, adding that, while the inspiration may have come from the artistic gems of the past, he had to start the process of realization from scratch.
“Everything in our show is original, like the video content which is all original, and the drawings were made by an artist, and all the music and the costumes are, of course, all original,” he says.
Cirkopolis is tailormade to keep the audience riveted to the edge of their seats. The tightly choreographed action can flow at breakneck speed, but there are more gently paced balladic passages in the onstage mix as well.
The action kicks off with an innocuous-looking scene, with which most office workers will be able to easily identify, and thereafter careers off into the realms of surrealism.
The storyline conveys the idea of alienation of city living, which all sounds rather dark and not particularly attractive, but there is also plenty of tongue-in-cheek intent.
“There is absurdity, too,” notes Painchaud. “The show was inspired by the literary works of Franz Kafka and the movies Brazil and Metropolis, where people only concentrate on their work and don’t pay attention to their soul and emotions, and that character can contaminate others.”
But in Cirkopolis all is not lost, and the darkness and soulless existence of the office worker is offset by some seemingly incongruent artistic and emotional input. “There is humor and that is like a bird or a butterfly on your shoulder, which changes the whole feeling of everything,” says Painchaud.
“That creates something more organic than it is supposed to be in a place of work, and then the character ‘contaminates’ the place with his poetry, and suddenly life makes sense.”
The virtual world of social networks and the relative dearth of opportunities for people to physically get together also found their way into the show, albeit in a referential way.
“That is part of the thinking, but it is more about people’s approach to work. We want to express the idea that life is more complex than the work situation, and human relations are sometimes based on magic, and that’s where you find the beauty of life,” he says.
Like any show of its genre, Cirkopolis has to operate like a welloiled machine but in the most visually appealing manner possible. With such intricate physical maneuvering at the core of the work, the proponents must not only be well rehearsed, physically fit and endowed with artistic and physical skills of the highest order, but they must also enjoy generous rapport on an emotional level.
“With all the acrobatics, we also work on fragility. You have to be solid acrobatically, but in order to create something special, something magic, you have got to accept your fragility as a human being but also as an acrobat.
Sometimes when it’s on the edge and it’s uncertain, you put the focus on those fragilities rather than on the perfect movement. By doing that, you bring the audience to a different place.
We like to work with the artists’ fragility,” he says.
That requires a degree of courage both of the performers and of the person at the helm.
“You need openness for that,” says Painchaud. “You need to accept the fact that although you’ve been working on a particular movement for years, we want to do something different that can also be important.”
Naturally, with a creation like Cirkopolis, aesthetics are of paramount importance, and the set designer, costume designer and lighting people invested much enterprise in the work.
“The costume designer and the lighting person especially had to show that from this gray world come colors throughout the show in order to express the idea that humanity slowly emerges from the artists. There is a lot of attention given to the lighting, the costumes, as well as the colors of the video. It is teamwork,” he says.
Overall, Painchaud wants his audience to come away feeling that their ticket money was well spent but also with some food for thought about the nature of urban life.
“Your wish, goal and dream as an artist is always for at least a couple of people in the audience to reflect on the show afterwards and to rethink about the city and their life. That makes us happy as artists because we have achieved our goal.”For tickets and more information: (03) 682-7777; *6226; and www.bimot.co.il.