Big Top, Highbury Fields, London N1
Opened 27 June, 1995

The LIFT programme describes Cirque Plume as hailing "from the country renowned for its ground-breaking contemporary circus", but this Besançon-based company is closer to the fantasy of Le Cirque Invisible than to the Mad Max antics of Archaos.

Many of the acts in Toiles are rooted in charming whimsy: a grand piano that grows feet and chases other performers around the ring, or a saxophonist playing in front of a wind machine so that, by means of clever-dickery on the sound desk, the instrument's voice seems to be blown all around the tent. This is daftness rather than daring. Elsewhere, we see some accomplished tumbling-cum-slapstick, a conjurer apparently setting fire to his head and the squat, fearsomely muscled Cyril Casmèze "enchanted" into uncanny impressions of a bulldog and a gorilla the only animal presences in the show.

The more conventional circus turns range from the competent (Danielle Le Pierrès' trapeze act) to the impressive (Isona Dodero's aerial rope dance), but it is the fantastical twists subsequently given to "usual" acts which prove most captivating. Jörg Müller shows himself to be an accomplished five-club juggler but then re-emerges to "choreograph" several tuned metal pipes suspended on cables; as they swing around the ring in interweaving flight paths, Müller apparently in rapt contemplation begins to play them as they fly past him, giving rise to a kind of acrobatic gamelan effect. Similarly, Erik Borgman can juggle footballs with the best of them, using his hands, feet, head, neck and shoulders. He later parodies himself delightfully: his silhouette, projected against a white backdrop, performs the same act with balls of light his shadow juggles these lights in slow motion, balances them, catches them in its shadow-hat, and finally sends a red ball arching gracefully to settle in the middle of its face, a silhouette with a glowing red nose.

These imaginative and imaginary strokes are the magic ingredient that makes Cirque Plume's cake rise. To palates jaded by a steady fare of run-of-the-mill British circus, Toiles is a welcome change.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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