Montreals Cirque Eloize has been courting the theatre market for 25 years, bringing thematic hooks and a broader range of performing arts to their circus work. Yet its traditional circus values physical daring and technical virtuosity among them that drive the best moments of their new 90-minute show, Hotel.
As might be expected for a circus show set in a hotel lobby, theres a lot of manic activity in this plot-free ode to grand hotel living.
Nods to the trappings of travel (luggage, bed linens, ice buckets) appear and disappear as props for acrobatic segues. What could be narrative threads are more like tangents, quickly forgotten once the tricks are successfully concluded. Singer Sabrina Halde, whose voice is enchanting (if under-amplified for her first number) wanders in and out of the proceedings. And an aggressive sound and lighting plot sets the mood but fails to bind the cascading vignettes together.
The constant commotion can be irritating, but director Emmanuel Guillaume at least knows when its crucial to strip things back and sharpen the focus.
He definitely does so for an aerial straps routine by Vancouver artist Tuedon Ariri. Tall and commanding, Ariri has star presence and a clear technical facility. But she manages to bring something else to her airborne ballet namely, a palpable sense of personal stakes, a hinted-at narrative of restraint, struggle and liberation.
More of this kind of suggestive content and better organization would make Hotel a more successful show, helping to balance action that is often chaotic or perplexing.
I frequently found myself waiting for more basic circus magic to return with classic acts like Cory Marsh on the Cyr wheel (Daniel Cyr, the inventor of the apparatus, co-founded Cirque Eloize), tiny Cesar Mispelon and tall Julius Bitterling doing hand to hand, and the exuberant group tackle of the Chinese poles all skillfully executed and fun to watch.
Another standout section begins as background: seemingly incidental to Philippe Dupuis juggling balls near the front of the stage, Antonin Wicky is busy climbing a set piece at the back, pushing suitcases up a nearly vertical incline high in the air. As it moves to dominate the stage, Wickys bit morphs into a simple yet riveting piece of physical theatre for a few pieces of luggage.
Even for those who enjoy it, circus can feel strange and archaic, cheesy at times. But its hard not to love circus performers. Even more than dancers, they remind us of the freedom to be found in risk and rigour, and that movement, regardless of discipline, can express this freedom like nothing else.
Hotel proves that even a glimpse of that idea in action is worth sitting through a whole lot of subpar theatrics.