I am proud and relieved to report that, as it turns out, my lifelong record of never having seen Cirque du Soleil remains unbroken. (Curious about why? Looka here). I was offered a chance to see a show at the Smith Opera House in Geneva (see previous post) and we were eager to see that historic theatre, and so we accepted, some things being more important to us than others. I got to watch the rehearsal warm-ups (pictured), and then the show, presented by a concern called Cirque International and both were so enjoyable that I found myself saying, “H’m, maybe Cirque isn’t so bad.” I mean, it was clear from the outset that this wasn’t one of their main productions. I began to assume, “H’m…maybe this is some kind of apprentice program for younger performers”. There was scarcely any set. There was no high fallutin’ “artistic theme”. The performers weren’t dressed like the characters in the Cats movie. And there were no clowns, let alone pretentious ones. (I love clowns, obviously, but I’m partial to the sawdust kind).
At any rate, a little research led us to a different truth — and no redemption for the Monster Show from Montreal. The show I saw was indeed a “Cirque”…but only in the sense that the word is French for “circus”. The deception is so glorious (because it is and isn’t one) that I wish I’d thought of it. You can’t trademark the word “cirque”, but I have no doubt the Soleil one has tried. And yet lots of people will assume you mean the famous one, because why wouldn’t they?
More frustratingly (after all, I’m now a fan), one can learn nothing about them. It’s almost as though they wanted to keep their identities a secret. They have no web site and all I encounter on searches is the same blurb in promotions for their upcoming engagements, which describes a “Cirque style show” (emphasis mine), by “an award winning production team” (they don’t say which awards), and “the world’s finest acrobats” (whom they don’t name). They don’t even have a logo. Are they on the run from the sheriff?
And yet I enjoyed them so much. And not just because I saw so little live theatre during the pandemic, and it was nice to be surrounded by happy families and adorable children. But because of how they do their show: simple, plain, meat and potatoes, no bullshit. As described by the other word in their name, it’s an International cast of young performers from all over the world. The show itself is just a straight succession of specialties: tumbling, tightrope, juggling, blade box contortionism, acrobalance, etc, with some elements of dance, framed by a charivari at the front end, and a finale at the back. Apparently the troupe normally present aerial acts as well, though the Smith is not equipped to allow it (not every venue is). All you would need is title cards on easels, a singer and a comedian to make it into a vaudeville show, and I guess that’s why I liked it so much. It’s back-to-basics, roots stuff. A ratatouille show.
More jaded circus fans may find the level of skill to be “ho hum”, but I’m not among their number. I can’t do any of the tricks presented in that show, and couldn’t even if I practiced from now to Kingdom Come. So three cheers for “Cirque International”. And if the smokies are on your trail, I’ll be one of the locals holding up a sign, cheering for you to make it over the county line.
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To learn more about the variety arts, including circus, please read No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous.