“Cirque Ingenieux” is the latest mutation of circus acrobatics mixed with sophisticated, high-tech stagecraft and very loud music. Of course, the show also blends amazing feats of physical dexterity with wildly overblown spectacle, once again proving that this new genre has a way to go before it catches up with the talent of its performers.
Rather than simply roll its acts out one by one, “Cirque” ties them together with a thin, wordless and ineffectual story about a young girl who visits a circus and dreams of becoming one of the performers. As she is led through the galaxy by a benevolent angel prone to singing mournful arias, the girl encounters an elaborate cast of characters, all of whom take themselves far more seriously than anyone in a traditional circus ever could.
Not that the show’s various contortionists, jugglers, illusionists, strongmen and acrobats don’t deliver the goods, but the over-serious tone of the performances often gets in the way of joy. The principal acts (particularly the contortionists and the strongmen) are done in slow motion and set to the absurdly ponderous, synthesized musical swellings of composer Kitaro, all to a curiously numbing effect. Tedium sets in faster than one might expect, largely because the acts and the music that accompanies them are so repetitive.
While the show’s moroseness might be viewed by some as sophistication, the only real use of that word applies to the technical wizardry behind the stagecraft. The lighting, costumes and black-light stage effects are all first-rate, and the inventive use of screen projections creates some dazzling effects. Billowing silk and dry-ice clouds create suitably eerie backdrops for the performers to do their things.
Producer Neil Goldberg has assembled a world-class cast of gymnasts and acrobats, including former Olympic female athlete of the year Christine Rivera and a number of top athletes from Russia, Poland, and Canada. Released from the rigid confines of competition, the athletes have developed some ingenious (as the title declares) adaptations of traditional gymnastic skills. Perhaps the most remarkable feat of all, their artistry manages to squeeze through the show’s pretension.