Review from: St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts, Bluma Appel Theatre, Toronto; 6th February, 2019
Celebrating their 25th year entertaining audiences with their own brand of circus, Montreal-based Cirque Éloize present Hotel, a new show with an old world feel. An opulent set, created by designer Francis Farley-Lemieux, seems as though it has been plucked from the lobby of some grand art deco hotel of yesteryear. The audience is allowed a glimpse into the lives of individual travellers passing into and out of each others’ lives, touching each other for a moment and then moving on.
Admittedly, not every moment of Hotel held my undivided attention, but the strengths of the show lie in its whimsy. The production does not take itself too seriously, mixing breathtaking aerial work with hilarious clowning antics and slapstick comedy. This is evident from the start of the show as Julius Bitterling and César Mispelon, (yes, that is Julius/César) partner in a bright and energetic hand-to-hand acrobatic act and the laughs continue throughout the show. The endearing maitre d’, portrayed by Antonin Wicky, cajoles hearty belly laughs from the audience during a scene that could have come straight from a Charlie Chaplin bit. We giggle as he struggles with a single suitcase, somersaulting, tripping, sliding, falling, eventually ending up with the case on his head and romance in his heart… for a lovely red carry-on case left on the bar.
Wicky’s clowning seems to be the way into everyone’s hearts during the evening’s performance. His character is tasked with keeping the story moving along throughout a multitude of intervals that separate the bigger spectacle acts. These larger acts include two aerial pieces, performed by Una Bennett and Tuedon Ariri respectively. Bennett’s piece allows us to be voyeurs watching her, the maid, enter a room that she is meant to tidy, but instead she winds her way up and around her aerial rope, abilities on full display as she swings, catches, releases, drops, and catches again. The audible gasps and applause from those watching follow her as she leaves the stage.
Ariri’s aerial straps performance, a standout of the evening, is a fitting ode to her character, a glamorous starlet and the one guest that does not seem to fit in with the others. She struts through the scenery in a short sequined dress and sunglasses, an outfit suited more to an Instagram post made yesterday than the 1930s aesthetic portrayed by the rest of the cast. Maybe this is done purposely by costume designer Lucien Bernèche to ensure that she leaves an impression wherever she goes. Regardless of her attire, she moves beautifully through the air. Sequences are creative and thoughtful, moving seamlessly from one to the next with ease and grace. It is an exciting piece full of dynamic movement and lightning fast transitions. I catch myself holding my breath at times as I’m watching. If it is her character’s desire to have the audience look past her shallow celebrity, then she has certainly succeeded.
There is no doubt in my mind that the entire cast of Hotel is a talented group. Each member plays an instrument, several of them sing, we see a comedic slackline act, Cyr wheel, a magical hula hooping ensemble, a beautiful juggling dance sequence, and a crowded Chinese pole finale. The premise allows for a wide variety of numbers but, as I watch events unfold, there is no story for me to find a footing. The lack of cohesion and connectedness between acts gives me trouble, as I prefer to search for a sort of narrative. Yes, they are all travellers or people who work within the hotel, but their stories are mostly their own. If two characters do connect, it seems to last only long enough to finish their act.
I fear that shows like Hotel, which lack story and substance, may get left behind in a theatre-based performing arts world, despite the talents of the performers (although there are certainly many theatre-goers that will appreciate the talent on display in this production). However, the modern world of circus continues to grow and diversify. I have had the pleasure of attending a wide variety of shows recently and, for those that prefer more contemporary and thought-provoking productions, groups like Circa and Les 7 Doigts de la Main – both of whom recently performed in Toronto to large crowds – may offer a more satisfying visit.