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Canadian circus troupe not your average Big Top show

By Maryann Maslan, Special to the Daily Planet
Friday October 26, 2001

Wrapped in a rope high above a darkened stage, a body wriggles and giggles, drops, rewinds then drops again, smiling and blowing kisses to the audience – Cirque Elioze has come to town, performing “Excentricus” at Zellerbach Hall through Saturday. 

Breaking away from the traditional circus of live animals and “thrills galore,” the Montreal-based company has its roots in theater, dance and music, as well as the circus.  

They have started what they call the “Canadian” tradition of circus.  

Cirque Eloize was founded in 1993 by seven artists – graduates of Montreal’s National Circus School and from the Magdalen Islands near New Brunswick. The name of the group comes from the island word, “eloize,” which means “flash lightning.”  

“We want to reach people by the heart, rather than the somersault,” said Jeannot Painchaud, co-founder and artistic director.  

The company has taken a step in a different direction from the sometimes distant, abstract and imaginary world of Cirque du Soleil, another group from Montreal. Cirque Eloize has added personalities and character development to the traditional circus acts. 

“This keeps the show alive,” said Jamie Adkins, slack wire aerialist and juggler. “The characters change a little each performance – we’re living it on stage – in the moment.” 

The Elioze performers generate warmth and laughter with their engaging characterizations. 

Acrobats, bicyclists, musicians and jugglers – each has developed an individual personality whose playful antics, petulant moods and funny quirks weave a line through the energetic, sometime chaotic, environment. 

The flare and atmosphere of a three-ring circus has been created with inventive lighting and a backdrop of stylized swags, which suggest the Big Top.  

With a wink to the traditional ringmaster, bass player Pat Donaldson was decked out in full tuxedo, a mane of wild hair and an authoritative posture. He and the versatile musicians were involved in the action while playing point and counterpoint to the various acts.  

The original musical score evoked childhood memories, hinted at circus themes, and offered everything from hard rock to cool jazz. 

The audience shouted comments, applauded gravity-defying stunts and snapped their fingers to the sexy sounds of the saxophone. 

An audience favorite was bicyclist Serge Huercio. Mild mannered, glasses slipping down his nose, he rode his bicycle in ways that seemed impossible yet looked so easy: Upside down, backwards, a pirouette.  

An “artistic bicyclist” for 10 years, Huercio told the audience during the question and answer period after the show that the “pirouette” alone took two years to perfect.  

“Now it is like walking down the street,” he added, to the laughter and applause of a charmed audience. 

Each act was a gem of timing, expertise and artistry. A stepladder became a graceful structure in the hands of Daniel Cyr and his work within the acrobatic wheel awed the audience with its elegant movement. The antics of Jamie Adkins with a metal folding chair delighted the audience. And the traditional glamorous aerialists – kissed without a safety net. 

The current 14-member ensemble has been touring together for four years, 233 days a year. This is their first time performing in the Bay Area.  

There will be a post-performance talk with the performers on Oct. 26.