I’ll say this about Le Grand Cirque: I’ve never been more afraid in a theatre.
The Wheel of Death – the spectacular finale to this showcase of human muscle, mind and madness – did not, thankfully, live up to its name. But, while ever-grinning gymnasts Wen Gen Wu and Jiang Long Cai were no doubt firmly in control of the manic ferris wheel, it was heart-in-the-mouth stuff for the unwitting audience as they ran like nimble little mice inside and outside the spinning steel cages. When one took hold of a skipping rope and began bouncing as the hastily-assembled contraption soared to the ceiling of the Lyric Theatre, stumbling at its highest point, it was hard to watch.
There’s no Big Top here; no lion tamers or any animals for that matter. Just good, old-fashioned daring. And great fun.
Let’s cut to the chase: is Le Grand Cirque a cheap imitation of the famed Cirque du Soleil, the Canadian company that almost single-handed repopularised circus performing with dozens of transcendent, globe-trotting shows? Well, yes. This US-based company, which cleverly capitalised on (and heavily borrowed from) the Cirque phenomenon on its debut in 2004, distinctly lacks the enchantment of its muse, with its richly-created worlds set to live music and voices.
Le Grand Cirque is all on tape (a boisterous soundtrack set to almost deafening levels on opening night) with little narrative cohesion to speak of. But its brilliant lighting and special effects show, gorgeous costumes and eye-popping feats of athleticism from a cast of hyper-fit, flexible and fearless young performers make for a thoroughly entertaining night at the theatre in its own right.
As the verbally-challenged ringmaster, mime artist Jonathan Samford quickly wins over the crowd with his clownish shtick – aided by some reluctant but good-natured audience participants from the cursed front row. He then introduces some truly remarkable feats that stack up against anything from the two Cirque du Soleil shows Brisbane audiences have seen in recent years.
The agility of performers climbing, falling and leaping between vertical poles made for a thrilling opening act; there was the muscle-quivering strength of Mark Flores precariously balanced on one arm for an excruciating few minutes; young ballerinas Wei Yu Chun and Wu Xiao Nu gracefully perched on their ballet points – while balanced on poor Li Yu Hua’s head; contortionist Liu Cen doing things to her tiny frame that would make chiropractors weep to form an astonishing human candelabra; an entire cast of acrobats clambering onto a moving bicycle; and the elegance of Igor Zaripoz and his fair maidens wound in cloth and soaring above the stage in perfect formation. Not to mention that death-defying Wheel, to name just a few highlights.
It really does have to be seen to be believed.
Le Grand Cirque may not be the Greatest Show On Earth. But it’s a damn fine spectacle, for young and old.
Le Grand Cirque
Venue: Lyric Theatre, QPAC, South Bank Brisbane
Dates: January 8 - 24, 2010
Times: Tuesday to Saturday 7pm
Matinees: Tuesday, Friday, Saturday 2pm, Sundays 1pm and 5pm
Bookings: 136 246 or www.qtix.com.au