The Passing Spectacle Vol. VII – No. 6

Hotel Fully Booked with Excitement

Lobbies of large hotels are busy places alive with the hustle and bustle of comings and goings of a variety of guests whose persona range from the flamboyantly glamorous to the mysteriously dramatic.  Some of this sort of hectic activity is portrayed in Cirque Éloize’s latest production titled simply Hotel, which was recently given its world premiere at the Foxwoods Resort & Casino in Connecticut.  That activity is suggested in the almost subliminal sound track that haunts the moments before the performance begins.  But it is in the ensemble pieces that the level of excitement rises to that hinted at in the show’s title; then the production achieves moments that are absolutely glorious, merging all the performing arts into a whole in which they serve and support one another in ways that are truly thrilling and rewarding.

One such segment elevates a skill set that is often used more as a filler than a feature.  Here hula hooping is turned into nothing less than a dazzling ballet in which numerous hoops spin around body parts in surprisingly unexpected ways, as the entire ensemble moves and weaves through complex choreography  with breathtaking, yet nonchalant precision.  Annie St-Pierre is credited with the show’s choreography.

In another  such segment, utilizing Chinese poles, the show wraps up its use of circus skills in what amounts to an orgy of acrobatic prowess.  Once again the entire ensemble is involved, although there are a few standouts whose complex slides and daring drops continue to leave one breathless as the action relentlessly moves along at dizzying speed.

This heart pounding exhibition gives way to the actual finale which is purely musical, and the twelve member troupe becomes a brass ensemble , at times accompanying vocalist Sabrina Halde in original pieces by Éloi Painchaud, who happens to be the wife of Jeannot Painchaud, Éloize’s president and chief creative officer.  This full-out musical section of the performance is hauntingly beautiful, a tender  and evocative moment  that helps us check out of the hotel and be on our way.

In between these ensemble pieces several unique and surprising individual acts help maintain the originality and imaginativeness of the entire production directed by Emmanuel Guillaume.

Two of the most unusual involve novel use of props and rigging.  In one, the artist, Jérémy Vitupier, works on a piece of rigging that looks like a cross between a cloud swing and a slack wire. As it turns out it becomes more the latter than the former. Vitupier insinuates himself into all sorts of contorted positions on the rope, all executed with comic overtones that are endlessly amusing.

The other novelty is an acrobatic juggling display that incorporates a series of water pails that serve as extensions of the artist’s limbs. These are used in such a casual manner that they almost seem taken for granted. What makes this unique approach so delightful is that so little attention is given to catching any of the balls that happen to land in the pails usually behind his back.   Just to prove that he is also a legitimate juggler Phillippe Dupuis performes a ten ball cascade that is as sure handed as his pails.

Two other solo turns are considerably more conventional.  Cooper Lee Smith’s exhibition on the Cyr wheel seems designed to introduce a flurry of frenetic activity, meant to suggest the action one would encounter  in a busy hotel lobby, all  of which, but for the ubiquitous suitcases,  is rather vague with ill defined meetings .  This suggestion of being in a hotel lobby is one of the least successful aspects of this otherwise brilliant production.

Another of the more conventional acts involves Una Bennett on the corde lisse. Considerable interest is added to her act by the blue lighting, the bluesy music and the use of a pouffe that double as a bed and a safety mat, a necessary addition given the number and daring of the free-fall drops she incorporates into her act.

The final solo act is Tuedon Ariri on the aerial straps in a routine that contains a good deal of contortion and dramatic collapses.

The single fully comic turn really devolves, thanks to Antonin Wicky’s expert mime talents and a series of demanding physical exertions into something closer to bathos than comedy. The piece begins with an overly long and rather tortured attempt on Wicky’s part to retrieve a piece of luggage that seems perpetually out of reach.  When at last he succeeds in getting hold of it he staggers off stage and returns wearing the luggage over his head, as if he were now a suitcase himself.  In the end he falls into a load of other suitcases stacked  upon a luggage trolley and is sadly wheeled off as just so much baggage.

As I have already suggested the most disappointing aspect of the production is its inability to convey any of the wackiness of the film The Grand Budapest Hotel  which has been suggested as a source of inspiration or the drama of unexpected meetings, and the interplay of glamorous guest that is so much a part of another inspiring film, The Grand Hotel.

The production would benefit, I think, with a fast paced theatrical and even spectacular opening like the opening number of a musical.  Surely a busy hotel lobby would lend its self to a charivari-like opening that would  set up the entire performance,  the concept, its tone and style.  Instead we have a very soft beginning.

A solo character enters from audience asking if we have seen Caesar, which we are given to presume is a dog, as he is described as small with curly hair.  It turns out, however, that Caesar is César Mispelon . a short, curly headed acrobat who immediately engages  Andrei  Anissimov, Lulius Bitterling, and Cooper Lee Smith in a series of eccentric  and often comic hand to hand balancing moves in which he amazingly entwines himself around his partners’ body parts while a shaggy rug stands in for the canine character alluded to earlier.    This is followed occasionally by some random and isolated bits of activity by the staff accompanied by the coming and goings of various suitcases.

The somewhat sterile setting also seems to tamp down the excitement level at the outset. It consists of a series of columns and an art deco abstract art piece up center.

And yet in spite of any lapses in pacing or theatricality the show does rise to those wonderful moments described at the outset and ultimately achieves a level of artistry that is elsewhere vanishing from the circus.