The Cirque Comes to Town

Cirque Eloize is what might happen if Cirque du Soleil met Barnum and Bailey’s Circus in Canada and decided to perform an eccentric tribute to Charlie Chaplin.
In ‘Rain,’ written and directed by Daniele Finzi Pasca (who also directed Cirque du Soleil’s ‘Corteo’ as well as the closing ceremonies of the last Winter Olympics), the 11-member multi-talented Canadian troupe strikes the midpoint between a classic American circus and the artful styles of Cirque du Soleil, making up in quirk, youthfulness and humor what it lacks in polish and synchronicity.
Cirque Eloize brought ‘Rain’ to the Barclay Theatre for eight performances. The title of ‘Rain’ can be taken to mean ‘like a rain in your eyes,’ but Pasca says, it is ‘about the nostalgia of youthful memories of dancing in a downpour of summer storms and being soaked to the skin.’
Cirque Eloize made its Southern California premiere at the Barclay Theatre. The renowned production of ‘Rain’ was first fleshed out in 2003 at the Barclay before it made its international rounds.
Piano and accordion accompany many of the playful scenes, which combine circus artistry, theater and dance with a healthy dose of self-deprecation.
The show starts with a man introducing Cirque Eloize in a thick French accent and being echoed comically by a clearly enunciating woman in the style of the Budweiser ‘Real American Heroes’ radio advertisements.
Warming up with mostly successful difficult three-way juggling (one man on another’s shoulders) and impressive back flips on a pole suspended in mid-air, a woman appears onstage and simply asks, ‘Excuse me, could someone please explain the show to me?’
The truth is that this show seems to have very little to do with rain until the last couple of scenes. According to Pasca, ‘The story takes place in a theatre where a circus show is in rehearsal, where theatre and reality blend into one another and you can’t tell where one begins and the other ends.’
The friendly chemistry between cast members is endearing and a refreshing break from the more formal Cirque du Soleil cast interactions.
In a mouth-dropping body contortionist scene, one performer is wrapped awkwardly around another’s waist at such a perfect height that the women standing upright begins grooving by using the contorted woman’s buttocks as bongos.
Other stunning contortionist scenes all but prove that Circus Eloize’s members must have been born with elastic spines and superhuman strength, especially when one woman eventually fits into a small suitcase (and is carried away). In another act titled ‘Hand to Hand,’ two amazingly strong men perform acts requiring cooperation, balance and, it seems, invisible supports holding them off the ground, free from any gravitational pull.
Every serious scene is broken up by comedic ones. Stalling for time, one cast member performs amusing tricks with a suitcase while five women get ready to perform acrobatic acts of strength and balance, suspended from cloth strips hanging down from above. As the suitcase performer leaves the stage, now lit in soft light, he ‘accidentally’ knocks out one of the five women starting the next act with his swinging suitcase.
In ‘Teeter Board,’ cast members use a seesaw to catapult each other 20 feet in the air, where they do flips as elaborate as any Olympic diver. What is perceived as the big finale ends disastrously when the man holding down one end of the seesaw is unexpectedly catapulted far offstage.
Offbeat humor is integral to ‘Rain.’ One scene features a proud performer preparing for some kind of act involving three bottles. An on-looking performer stands mostly still until she randomly and abruptly ends the act by knocking down the bottles with extravagant and stereotypical martial-arts moves and noises.
After it begins raining, the whole cast begins to play, sliding onstage