Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Circus of angels

J-F and I went to the circus on Sunday. We'd received tickets for Cirque du Soleil as a Christmas present.

Corteo. I'd heard nothing about the new show.

The anticipation in the hours preceding the matinee performance was palpable. There's nothing like the childlike awe in beholding the whimsical shape and colours of the circus tent and stepping through its flaps into another world.

The curtain was raised on a man on his deathbed. Angels flit about, and he struggles to join him. A parade of life passes him by — I assumed it was his life, his memories — some unseemly characters threatening to thwart his ascent to the angelic orders. This was his struggle to find peace in death, to cross into the afterlife. Angels!

For a full hour, my face was strained from smiling, my jaw dropping at regular intervals. We nudged each other, giggled, and pointed. Breathtaking. Heart-stopping.

At intermission, we darted through the rain to other tents to admire the trophies available for purchase to those lucky enough to be in attendance. Seuss-like hats, masks and wings, full whimsy wardrobes, along with the more conventional programmes and CDs.

The second act, though thrilling, faltered. The pacing was off. One very slow, if beautiful, sequence featuring a proficient whistler accompanied by a glass orchestra was followed up with jugglers interrupted by a torrent of rubber chickens, and then a weak, almost charmless, slapstick midget theatre production.

The music too was uneven. It was unmistakably Cirque, with the usual Mediterranean and Arabic influences incorporated into a soundtrack designed to build suspense. It was perhaps a little jazzier than is typical of their sound, scat even, but sadly it lapsed into Kenny G-type solos and regressed to a style of early 80s rock ballad. Little of it matched the baroque-inspired set, nor were there songs of angels.

As a finale, our dead man achieves full wings and halo.

Reading about the show afterwards, I feel cheated of lofty themes. The premise as written seems more mundane. It was not clear to me that the dead man was a clown among his old troupe. While the parade was felliniesque, I saw in it a quest, a narrative drive, that seems not to have been intentional.

Parade of clowns. Posted by Hello

I enjoyed the show immensely, but I can't deny that in the second half the illusion wore away, the mechanics came into evidence, and a little disappointment crept over me.

What was missing? Children.

Helena was not in attendance. I took mental note of the many elements that would enthrall her. I noted the irony of anticipating the day Helena would be old enough to appreciate such a performance.

Very few kids were in the audience. Very few kids could tolerate a three-hour outing such as this one. Very few parents would spend so much money on a spectacle their children would stop enjoying after an hour. I stopped fully enjoying it after an hour.

While it's well and good that adults should be encouraged to find their inner child, to squeal with delight in awe of human feats of strength and dexterity, it felt phony not to experience it among children.

I look forward to sunny days in the park this summer and hope once again the local circus folk — I mean those regular people who live in this neighbourhood, the ones who have steady jobs with the circus — will come with their kids and practice their backflips and swing from the structures while the children occasionally look up from their sandcastles.

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