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Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Blurring Circus Frontiers

Tabac Rouge's dynamic ensemble. Photo: Richard Haughton

By Roy Gómez-Cruz

The fifth creation by the Compagnie du Hanneton, Tabac Rouge, directed and choreographed by virtuoso performer James Thierrée, is the first of several physical theater performances in the 2015 Next Wave Festival at BAM. The piece, which opens in the BAM Howard Gilman Opera House tonight, explores the porous boundaries between theater, dance, and contemporary circus. With a cast of world-class dancers and high-level acrobats, Tabac Rouge represents the erratic desires of a capricious tyrant through the mesmerizing and whimsical physicality of his people.

Tabac's despot (Thierrée) makes a chance encounter with one of his subjects.
Photo: Vincent Pontet
For this piece, Thierrée mined the dark depths of his artistic desires through a dynamic blend of theatre and acrobatic poetry. From there, he created a choreodrama that questions the universality of dance, the democracy of movement, and the organization of societies around power. Like all of Thierrée’s reveries, the bizarre characters populating the stage whirl in eccentric patterns as if under the draw of invisible gravitational pulls. But in the world of Tabac Rouge, these upside-down choreographic defy cohesive structures of meaning.

Spectators seeking an organizing storyline to make sense of the frenzy will most likely be denied, as Thierrée draws primarily on circus dramaturgy. Born and raised in the cirque, Thierrée innately channels the genre's knack for unearthing fantastical worlds and displaying dazzlingly virtuosic bodies without clear narrative structures. Like Thierrée’s multi-faceted career, the circus has always been a malleable genre.

Since its inception in England in the late 18th century, the circus spread around the world as a funnel for a wide range of street performance traditions, folk acrobatics, and pop culture expression. But a pivotal transformation of the circus began in the 1970s after pioneering circus companies in Europe and French-speaking Canada dismantled their caravans, menageries, and sideshows and established professional circus schools. With these institutions at the core, a new artistic and intellectual revamping of circus disciplines is catching momentum.

While Tabac Rouge leans heavily on dance, it also reflects the current state of contemporary circus arts that push the frontiers between artistic disciplines. In the diaspora of circus virtuosos to galleries, theaters, and dance studios, Tabac Rouge offers a glimpse of the genre's trajectory as circus artists continue to be highly expressive in a form without an overarching narrative.

Opus in action (and flight). Photo: Justin Nicholas

The other two Next Wave physical theater shows demonstrate the breath of the field. Hallo has just one man on stage, although he's joined by edifices that seem to have minds of their own and force the poor man to bend his body to fit them. Opus may appear to be an acrobatics show. But add into the midst a live string quartet and the risk factor is elevated many times. The fact that the three shows come from France, Switzerland, and Australia—with performers from even more countries and regions—shows that physical theater is expanding artistically as well as geographically. Join the exploration.

Tabac Rouge, the first of the 2015 Next Wave Festival's physical theater offerings, plays the BAM Howard Gilman Opera House September 30—October 4, and tickets are still available.

Roy Gómez-Cruz is a Ph.D. student in Performance Studies at Northwestern University.

1 comment:

  1. I saw a vision of my life's dream tonight at @BAM_Brooklyn ... Thank you #TabacRouge & #TheNextWaveFestival for reminding me about #Freedom!


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