by MIKE CHAIKEN
When it comes to the world of “cirques,” the circus stunts performed by the cast are the expected cornerstones of each performance.
There almost always will be acrobats, jugglers, aerialists, clowns, etc.
So to make a “cirque” performance more than an open house at circus school, the creative team will provide a structure, a storyline, an imaginary universe, in which to envelope the performers.
In the case of Cirque Eloize, they have placed their latest production, “Hotel,” inside, well, a hotel. And they have placed the performers in a universe that crosses the 1920s with a modern day New York nightclub, complete with neon, glitter, hip-hop DJs, and disco lighting.
From the moment on Aug. 23 that the lights went up for the show—which is having its world premiere in the confines at the Fox Theater at Foxwoods Resort Casino—it was clear that the creators knew their cinematic history of classic movie clowns.
Cesar Mispelon and his hand-to-hand partner Julius Bittering evoked the physical comedy of silent film star Charlie Chaplin – in this case Mispelon—and his cast of unfortunate straight men. The twists and turns and contortions—and the demonstrations of strength by the duo—and balance were the right touch to set the mood for the evening to come.
Mispelon served as the comic thread between the bits, tapping into the inspiration of The Little Tramp and The Marx Brother’s Harpo (especially when he was seen scampering across the stage chasing one of the pretty female performers) blowing his Sousaphone.
Another comic delight for Cirque Eloize was the hotel concierge Antonin Wicky. His befuddled characterization was thorough and his physical comedy evoked another silent film comedy legend, Harold Lloyd. In particular, Wicky’s schtick swinging by his hands at the top of the hotel set reminded me of Lloyd’s classic bit dangling from a skyscraper clock in the silent film, “Safety Last!” And one of the most Dada-esque moments of the evening came when Wicky stepped out with a suitcase on his head. The moments that followed were quite chuckle-worthy.
The zaniness of the entire cast in the lobby of a luxury hotel evoked memories of The Marx Brothers’ madcap 1929 debut film, “The Cocoanuts.”
The clowning around was only one dimension of “Hotel” that grabbed your attention, of course. One attends a cirque for the circus arts. And the skill of the cast was clearly evident
The energy of the entire cast as they tried to outshine each other—amicably– Chinese pole served as a grand attention grabber.
Individual moments that stuck out included the lovely straps performance by Tuedon Ariri and the beautiful rope work above the stage of Una Bennett.
Another aspect of “Hotel” that was intriguing was the artistic decision to have many different things going on all at once. It was kind of like a symphonic composition where the notes of each instrument sometimes played in unison for chords and other times moved with, across and counter to each other in an orchestration. It was like a mad machine and the fact that the cast was able to keep up with a silent conductor was impressive. You never knew where to look.
Other items worthy of notice was the magnificent stage set created by Francis Farley-Lemieux and the sound design by Colin Gagne. These helped set a time and place and universe for the performers to live in for the 90 minute performance.
The show, as noted, is experiencing its world premiere during its stay at Foxwoods. And the Aug. 23 performance was its first presentation to a paying audience.
Given its fresh vintage, there were definitely some bugs to be worked out. There were times where props clearly didn’t work as planned. Some of the stunts, if you paid attention, were bungled – not tragically so—but clearly enough that the performers probably received some stern notes from the director. The pacing also lagged at times as it seemed as if the performers were thinking about their next move rather than reflexively engaging in them.
But I’m going to guess after opening night jitters have subsided, given the impressive credentials of the cast, who were culled from places like Russia, Canada, France, Switzerland, and the United States– these awkward moments will be ironed out.
Cirque Eloize’s “Hotel” is a different approach to any cirque show than I have seen. But that’s what makes it so interesting. I love the evocation of classic movie clowns. Additionally, the circus stunts did not disappoint.
Cirque Eloize’s newest show is definitely worth the journey down to Foxwoods Resort Casino.
I give “Hotel” three out of four stars.
Cirque Eloize’s “Hotel” continues through Sept. 2 with performances on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays at 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays at 2 p.m. Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. Sunday at 7 p.m. Tickets ran from $25 to $55.
For more information and tickets, go to www.foxwoods.com