Passing Spectacle Vol. IV- 8

 

Cirque Mechanics’ Pedal Punk

Spins a Tale of Charm and Wonder

043-CM15-PP-MS_MS33620- The style of the physical production of Cirque Mechanics’ new production, Pedal Punk,  tends toward the steampunk aesthetic, inspired by the industrial steam-powered machinery of the 19th Century.  Because the curtain is up and the setting exposed as we enter the theater, we have plenty of time to consider what may be in store for us.   Despite the structural complexities of the setting, however, whatever suggestion there is of the show’s being overpowering and hard-edged, which that initial impression may have aroused, is softened considerably, first by all those wheels that hang from various parts of the setting, and later once the performance begins, by the concept devised by Steven Ragatz and the indispensable performance of Jan Damm.

Thanks to the contributions of these two artists, Pedal Punk accumulates a gentle charm and intimacy that is totally captivating and carries the show along with effortless grace. The “action” of the scenario is set, we soon learn, in a bicycle shop and a bell over an unseen doorway, heralds, with the gentlest of fanfares, the entrance of each new custumer, each of whom arrives carrying some sort of wheel in need of attention. Before launching into a circus act motivated by a brief interaction with the shop keeper (Damm) each customer establishes some sense of character.  Once again it becomes apparent that some acting ability can be a great asset to a circus performer, and Damm, who eventually provides a fascinating turn with a diabolo and, more spectacularly on the rola bola, is the prime example.  Without seeming to act at all, he has created an interesting character with whom we are more than happy to spend our time, and once he is engaged in presenting his circus skills we can’t help but to cheer him on.

Before we know where we are at, however, the opening whirlwind charvari spins the entire company through a series of acro-dance movements that sets the breezy tone of the performance. One of those bicycles that hangs from the setting’s industrial looking frame is what is known as a Penny Farthing, a two-wheel bike with the front wheel being much bigger that the smaller rear wheel. The rider sits in a seat considerably elevated off the ground.  Here, however, suspended as it is, it’s front wheel is turned into a lyra or aerial hoop on which two women, Lauren Stark and Lindsey Covarrubias, playfully work their way through various poses and acrobatics, all accomplished as the rear wheel revolves around them, creating a fascinating, and somewhat worrisome picture.

A crushed wheel rim is restored only to turn into a hula hoop used most interestingly by Nata Ibragimov.  I think, by the way, it is time to discard that term and just call it hoops, because its use has evolved into something more akin to juggling and object manipulation rather than belly dancing. Adding greater visual interest Ibragimov  eventually works her way up to an elevated platform.

In keeping with the wheely concept, another wheel rim is enlarged to become a Cyr wheel. This is put to use by Wes Hatfield, who like most members of the company proves to be multi-talented.  He joins several others near the end of the show on a trampoline that fits snuggly in between the structure’s towers.

An ordinary looking bicycle splits in half to become two unicycles on which the husband and wife team of Wendy and Nick Harden perform some choreographed acrobatic maneuvers. A rolling piece of scenery becomes the stage for Windu Ben Sayles’ contortion that includes some gasp inducing dislocations.

Perhaps the most inevitable and impressive bit of cycling is contributed by Blake Hicks on a BMX bike that utilizes all parts of the setting for his derring-do. At the first act finale, the gantry itself gets into the act, and pulls its massive self forward just to prove that it is not a static piece of scenery but a performer in its own right, a sleeping giant waiting its turn to wow us. It is an intriguing end to the first half, hinting at what new marvels are yet to come.

Throughout the entire show the lighting of Anthony Powers is also a player, changing moods and enhancing individual moments with brilliant flashes of its own. Michael Picton’s jaunty score is also effective in enhancing that quiet charm with which the production is so delightfully embued.

After intermission a Chinese pole that has been discretely positioned on the gantry is pressed into action with several members of the company participating, principally featuring Wendy Harden. Although the first half has almost no comedy, several moments in the second half make up for that deficiency. In the first piece, writer Steven Ragatz has imagined a stationary bike race, whose incongruity is immediately charming.  One of the participants is taken from the audience, but here is an example of where the embarrassment factor is practically nil.  The other contestant is Jan Damm, and he provides the needed comedy most ably.

A reminder of Cirque Mechanics’ evolution comes in the form of a rolling, revolving platform that is propelled by two pedalers and has been dubbed the spin-cycle. It provides the stage for Nata Ibragimov’s lyrical version of classic contortion. Another brief bit of comedy involved the Hardens in a bull fight parody, on wheels, of course, tiny ones. But the best comic bit involves a pair of square wheels that eventually provide the biggest surprise of the performance.

But before that is accomplished Jan Damm has some more tricks up his gartered sleeve. His work on the rola bola is every bit as expert as his comic acting. Moving away from the wheely concept  Lindsey Covarrubias works on the corde’lise, and then the previously noted trampoline, which has been put in place during intermission, is pressed into service as Wes Hatfield, Windu Sayles, Gaz (Gareth) Hopkins and Wendy Harden bounce onto various landing pads stationed around the gantry to provide a continuously varied and exciting spectacle that is quickly topped by the grand finale, a display of a varied set of circus skills shown on every level, nook and cranny of the versatile setting.

It is finally at the curtain calls that those almost forgotten square wheels return, pressed into play and made to roll along in a delightfully surprising coup d’theatre. The perfect ending.

Pedal Punk was seen at the New Victory Theatre in New York where it played during the busy holiday season.  The production team is headed by Chris Lashua, who besides being the founder of Cirque Mechanics, is also its creative director and machine designer.  In that latter capacity he is assisted by Sean Riley, who is rigger, set and machine designer.  Long time collaborators Aloysia Gavre is the choreographer and Steve Ragatz the writer.  Lisa Ragatz is the costume designer and Anthony Powers is the lighting designer.  Michael Picton is the composer, assisted by Bryan Rocenbaum.  Aida Lashua is co-producer. 048-CM15-PP-MS_MS43484-