An imaginative merging of physical feats and playful poetics, Cirque Eloize’s “Rain” has the seeming spontaneity and relaxed interactive quality of a happening. The performers’ playful combativeness and childlike curiosity inject a heart-swelling intimacy often lacking in such physically oriented shows, while inspired writer-director Daniele Finzi Pasca arranges and juxtaposes human movement like a visual artist translating sentiment into theatrical compositions.
The exuberance of this Quebec-based circus makes it natural entertainment for children, but for “Rain” to be relegated only to that audience would be a pity. Adult themes such as longing, tenderness, nostalgia and loss lap like waves around the central action, which intermingles monologue, physical comedy, mime and modern dance along with more vaudevillian acts like tumbling, contortion, juggling and trapeze.
Pasca frequently divides segments along gender lines, forgoing traditional male/female dynamics and bringing refreshing explorations of strength and intimacy in same-sex communion. In one comedic piece, a band of “strong men” in animal prints grunt over mild expenditures of effort, and in a dazzling contortionist trapeze duo, a brawny woman balances a smaller performer on the tops of her feet, among other precarious places.
Pasca also underlines the importance of approaching life and personal achievement with awe and modesty. After each feat the performers’ faces are filled with wonderment and elation, as if they’ve shocked themselves by catapulting off that giant seesaw into a triple back flip.
The show is set loosely during a rehearsal, with the workings of the production explored through snippets of dialogue or monologue. Overlapping segments play off each other, punctuating contrasting forms of aesthetic feats while fluidly drawing the eye to each display as one fades out and another begins.
Maria Bonzanigo and Lucie Cauchon’s original music compositions, centered on violin and piano, and Meredith Caron’s playful French-inspired costumes add to the overall magic and mood, along with charming props, most notably small storm clouds pulled around on a string that hang in the air as surrealist punctuation to the surrounding action.
A central kernel of Pasca’s nostalgia-centered vision is exemplified in the movement that ends act one. The cast gathers downstage singing the phonetic sounds of live piano and dancing in simple, coordinated movements. Soon the music slows, several performers drop off, while a few continue to dance but only lip-sync the words.
Colored scraps fall from the sky as the piano player stops, puts up his stool and wheels the ivories away while the players catch a cloth and sit down among the skeletal remains of the rehearsal room as if reading a personal, heartrending letter. The few remaining dancers join this new task, until the lively scene from a moment before is broken down completely, replaced by a plaintive and insular atmosphere.
Here, as elsewhere, Pasca gives the audience enough evocative ingredients to impress his story while also inviting the viewer to infuse his or her own joy and longing into the open spaces.