'Cirque' dazzles, confuses Review: This 'theatrical' circus can stand on its own and doesn't need a story to hold it together.

March 05, 1998|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,SUN THEATER CRITIC

"Cirque Ingenieux" is: part of the new wave of theatrical circuses, visually lovely and choreographically slick.

"Cirque Ingenieux" is not: a circus with lions and tigers and bears (there are no animals at all) or thrill-a-minute excitement.

The production at the Lyric Opera House through Sunday departs from traditional circuses -- as well as from the best-known "cirque," Cirque du Soleil -- because it tells a story. But like the Singer in "Cirque Ingenieux," who sings compositions by New Age composer Kitaro filled with nonsensical words, the story doesn't make much sense.

In addition, dazzling as some of the circus acts are, there's a slow, languid quality to much of the evening, almost as if it were being performed under water -- an effect enhanced by the bluish color scheme of much of Howell Binkley's glittery lighting and Jerome Sirlin's inventive projections. Nor does the story speed up the action.

My 8-year-old companion wondered, justifiably, why "Cirque Ingenieux" didn't merely dispense with this wordless story and simply focus on the circus acts, many of which are truly wondrous.

A trio of trapeze artists (Nathalie Hebert, Chiharu Matsuki and Veronique Thibeault) knit themselves into intricate configurations that look like a giant, mid-air game of cat's cradle.

A pair of strong men, Jaroslaw Marciniak and Dariusz Wronski, execute an amazing series of slow, graceful balancing feats -- Wronski supporting himself in a one-armed handstand on Marciniak's head while the seated Marciniak rises to a standing position, or later, while Marciniak rotates in a complete circle.

Aerialist Alexander Streltsov suspends himself from two diaphanous expanses of white fabric -- spinning, twirling, even swinging out over the orchestra pit as if the fabric were giant white wings.

A Wizard (Geoffrey Bach) performs black-light illusions, creating a tightrope out of a long white line, which he then transforms into a flight of stairs.

And there's humor as well, particularly in a scene set in a costume shop where designer Jonathan Bixby's fancifully costumed characters include a Slinky-like tape measure; a sewing machine that cavorts like -- and resembles -- Gumby's pony, Pokey; and a human-size needle that balances on a large red ball.

But back to that pesky story. Created by librettist Norman Allen and directed by Joe Leonardo, the plot would seem simple enough. A little girl named Sarah (Ekaterina Fedosseeva) longs to join the circus, sneaks backstage, gets transported into a "Wizard of Oz"-like dream world and eventually has her wish come true.

A dream world means almost anything goes, but this one, intended primarily to frame the circus acts, lets those acts down by adding a layer of confusion instead of support. Why, for example, does the character of the Enchantress (Alexandra Tejeda Rieloff) keep threatening Sarah? Is the large crow-like bird that Sarah rides off on a friend or a foe? And what is this ominous creature doing in the costume shop of the friendly Tailor (Jason McPherson)? For that matter, why is the Singer (Tara-Lynn Wagner), who serves as Sarah's guardian angel, spouting nonsense?

Maybe there's something Freudian going on here. Or maybe -- probably -- the viewer shouldn't try to read too much into this story. Either way, sometimes a cirque should just be a cirque.

'Cirque Ingenieux'

Where: Lyric Opera House, 140 W. Mount Royal Ave.

When: 7:30 p.m. tonight through Saturday, 5:30 p.m. Sunday; matinees at 3:30 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday

Tickets: $21-$35

Call: 410-752-1200

Pub Date: 3/05/98

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