The most striking visual image in James Thierree’s enchanting and visually bountiful nouveau cirque “Farewell Umbrella” is not the titular rain protection, which makes only a brief appearance, but a collection of giant ropes. The players climb on them, swing from them, get buried in them and lie on them. Thierree has a fertile imagination and the full skill set to express it in indelible and surprising ways.
While the show does fall clearly within the same broad category of performance as a Cirque du Soleil piece, “Farewell Umbrella” is far more intimate in scale and also more abstract, with Thierree reluctant to reveal an easily relatable theme, let alone a story. He emphasizes modern dance over acrobatics, painterly images over broad spectacle, and his show evokes a very different atmosphere — emotional and warm yet determinedly unsentimental.
This is existential cirque — ponderous in its visual beauty, hypnotic in its unforced pacing, capable of an occasional good guffaw but more memorable for its depth and complexity of feeling.
Thierree, son of Cirque Imaginaire founders Victoria Chaplin and Jean-Baptiste Thierree, forms the core of the show. He’s a wide-ranging performer who can do a straightforward physical comedy routine involving missed jacket sleeves that instantly brings his grandfather Charlie Chaplin’s famed tramp to mind. But then he takes his antics to more sophisticated levels, balancing, for example, on a rounded rocking chair or doing hybrid dance/clown routines in tandem with his cast. He’s a trapeze artist, a violinist and even a convincing romantic leading man. His movement doesn’t just entertain, it charms.
Thierree also leaves the stage a lot to let his teammates shine. Magnus Jakobsson does a wonderful bit of mime, as a clumsy magician attacked by his own props. Satchie Noro admirably strips her elegant rope-climbing acrobatics of cliche. And then there’s Kaori Ito, a diminutive dancer with an enormous stage presence whose ultra-expressive modern solo of fluid limbs and youthful energy is arguably the evening’s most exquisite sequence.
The show, which plays the Brooklyn Academy of Music in December, moves between moments of peaceful playfulness and crisis, as Thierree explores humanity under a confused assault from the unpredictable heavens. The main balancing sequence toward the end, when Thierree hangs upside down from a bar, plays as a rescue scene, with a final sequence of deserved rest interrupted by a sudden rain of badminton birdies.
There’s no escaping the elements in “Farewell Umbrella.” And there’s no denying this show’s beauty.