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March 3, 2008 | by  | in Theatre |
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Secret – Cirque Ici

I walked into one of the flagship shows of the New Zealand International Festival of the Arts expecting to be treated to a traditional modern circus act – akin to the famous Cirque de Soleil.

I was looking forward to acrobats, clowns and contortionists doing their thing and having a giggle at their antics. What I saw completely surprised me. Secret by Cirque Ici could best be described as Cirque de Soleil meets an engineer on acid who is sitting in a darkened French avante garde basement. It was conceived and performed by one man, Johann le Guillerm. A renowned circus performer and tightrope walker, he has been involved in avante garde circus performances for years, receiving the Grand Prix National du Cirque in 1996. I was in for a treat.

Upon entering the traditionally constructed circus tent (complete with uncomfortable wooden benches) the surreal nature of the performance was immediately apparent. Two seating arrangements hugged the inner circus ring and there was a palatable hum in the air; it was telling that the audience was predominantly elderly and middle-aged. This was no place for kids. Guillerm strode into the ring costumed in a cloak of red, medieval amour boots and cracking a bullwhip. Cylindrical buckets and cloth triangles played the roles of animals. Guillerm gasped and hissed around the ring, cracking his whip and manipulating the environment in increasingly inventive ways. Such creative absurdity set the scene for the next two hours. Guillerm took the audience on a fantastical journey through the mind of a deranged engineer poet, exploiting the physics of air, construction and flight. Each scene focused on a new fascination of Guillerm’s mad professor, expressed in mime and contortionism. I was astounded to see an artificial tornado being constructed in the center of a circus ring, and twisted and bent purely with air fluctuation and sound waves. The intricacy of Guillerm’s constructions was impressive. His finale consisted of him creating an entire seven metre high wooden tower, only out of planks and ropes – without touching the ground. Truly an astounding example of technical stage work.

It was not just Guillerm’s personal performance that was exemplary. His crew was on the money. Two spiky-haired DJs stood on either side of the ring, remixing a surrealist electronic soundtrack in real time. I had the fortune to be seated behind one such DJ, and it was fascinating to see him caress his chaos pad in perfect synchronization. All the stage crew was costumed, becoming an integral part of the performance, further immersing the audience in this circus on acid. It was not until ten minutes in that I realized the lighting technician was suspended from the roof, manipulating massive slug- like movable spotlights with rigged trapezes.

Secret, by Cirque Ici, was surreal, creative and mesmerizing. It was a tripped out engineer’s wet dream. Go and see it, its mechanical brilliance will amaze you.

New Zealand International Arts Festival
Secret – Cirque Ici
Price – $75

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About the Author ()

Conrad is a very grumpy boy. When he was little he had a curl in the middle of his forehead. When he was good, he was moderately good, but when he was mean he was HORRID. He likes guns, bombs and shooting doves. He can often be found reading books about Mussolini and tank warfare. His greatest dream is to invent an eighteen foot high mechanical spider, which has an antimatter lazer attached to its back.

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