Back in the day, going to the circus meant looking forward to seeing clowns do incredibly dumb but hilarious things, generally culminating in one or another of the red-nosed bewigged characters getting pie or some other equally gooey substance on their heavily made up face. Then, of course, there were the mistreated – “trained” or “tamed”, in the non-PC professional parlance of the day – animals, such as horses, lions and elephants, which would perform crowd-pleasing tricks.
My, how things have changed.
Thankfully, forcing animals to do unnatural acts is no longer considered acceptable, let alone entertaining.
Today, circuses tend to focus on human acrobatics, seasoned with humor and a large slice of wowie special effects.
All the above, and then some, will be on offer at the Performing Arts Center in Tel Aviv, daily between November 8 and 12, when the awardwinning Cirque Eloize of Montreal blows into town. The show in question this time around – the troupe has performed here before, including at the Israel Festival in Jerusalem – goes by the name of iD.
Considering the multicultural and interdisciplinary stretch of the performing personnel – with a cast of 15 artists from 12 different fields of the arts – the show title seems entirely apt. Miami-born 22-year-old Nicole Winter, who has been one of the principal members of the troupe for the past two years, says the international mix adds an X factor to the creative mix.
“We’re from all over the world – Mexico, Spain, France, the US, Canada and Poland. That makes for a really interesting dynamic on tour because people from different cultures see things in different ways.
We have our own ways of working, but we really blend together and work well with each other. We have a very interesting type of family feeling,” she says.
The close-knit nature of the group also comes into play when planning the acts in the show.
There are some incredibly fast and furious turns in iD, which is directed by Jeannot Painchaid, that demand water-tight precision and a keen sense of timing. At various points in the stage proceedings, the performers flit in and out of each other’s trajectory at breakneck speed, so without a generous amount of physical and emotional rapport, that could all go horribly wrong.
There is plenty going on in the show at any given moment to keep audience members riveted to their seats.
“There are a lot of artistic elements in the one show,” Winter continues, adding that, nip-andtuck choreography ethos notwithstanding, the individual artists still have space for personal maneuver. “The way the show is structured, it leaves us a lot of room to make our own personal contributions and to express ourselves. We are able to take the characters we play and make them into our own.”
As there is a certain amount of periodic personnel turnover, that offers an important degree of flexibility.
“If a cast member changes, the general structure of an act will stay the same, but you still get to put your own personal flavor onto it,” explains Winter.
Presumably that also keeps longrunning shows fresh for performers and audiences alike. iD, for example, has been doing the global rounds for seven years now, to ongoing acclaim and full houses.
“One of the things that I really enjoy about working in this kind of environment, when I do have this artistic freedom, is that I can constantly work on different aspects of my character,” notes Winter.
“That keeps it interesting for me, and I’m not doing the same thing every single time, show in and show out.”
iD, as the title infers, addresses the issue of cultural and social identity. There are some scenes in the show which are more than a little reminiscent of the gang war atmosphere that was central to the early 1960s blockbuster musical West Side Story. It also neatly reflects the company’s multinational lineup.
“The show is essentially about finding out who we are and coming to terms with and accepting each other,” says Winter. “We may believe in different things or be very different people, but we still have to learn to work together and accept each other.”
Sounds like a good message to be bringing to this part of the world.
“I think it is a very useful and a very important thing, especially in this day and age, with everything going on in the world,” she says.
There is certainly plenty going in iD, including acting, dancing, juggling, break dance and some pretty nifty bicycle acrobatics. One of the spots of the latter discipline includes the participation of a brave member of the audience, who has to remain absolutely still while the daredevil cyclist nimbly navigates his two-wheeler around the willing patron.
Tenderness of years notwithstanding, Winter has been doing her artistic thing for some time now.
“I started out as a ballet dancer.
When I was 12 years old, I discovered I was flexible. At the time, I didn’t realize that it was special, that not everyone could do it,” she recounts.
In fact, Winter is an extremely supple contortionist and performs some amazing feats during the show.
“I have some good party tricks in there,” she laughs.
It was also a sharp break away from the disciplined art of her earlier childhood.
“Ballet is very structured,” Winter continues. “I think that one of things that drew me towards contortion and circus is that it wasn’t that structured. You still have to train long hours and put in the dedication and work, but you have more freedom and more ability to do what you please with it.”
iD is an eye catcher from the getgo.
In addition to the polished dance, theater and acrobatic skills on display, there is a dramatic storyline and visual effects that make the most of hi-tech capabilities, with pyrotechnics and lighting effects galore.
But it is not just about keeping the audience’s eyes trained on the stage. Winter says they like to draw the public into the entertainment offering.
“We use a lot of humor. I think that the bike act, with the biker jumping over the audience member, appeals to the audience the most. We really try to get the audience involved in the show. We break what we call ‘the fourth wall,‘ that invisible barrier that keeps the actors away from the audience. We tell the audience that it’s OK to laugh; and if you’re enjoying yourself, just let us know,” she says.
Cirque Eloize will perform on November 8 to 12 at the Opera House in Tel Aviv. For tickets and more information: (03) 692-7777 and http://www.israel-opera.co.il/