I’ve been told that total strangers spontaneously wrestle each other on the streets of Ulan Bator. The urge to fight is so ingrained in the Mongolian culture that it overwhelms them.
So it seems with Compagnie XY, the French circus (although circus is hardly an adequate way to describe them). But theirs is the urge to fly.
As it turns out, their dazzling Il n’est pas encore minuit… starts with a street brawl, a bit of push and shove between two blokes, escalating into an all-in wrestle between 22 of them that evolves through judo and dance into an ebbing-and-flowing juggernaut of free-form acrobatics.
That escalation, evolution and disintegration sets the tone for the next 70 minutes, a glorious demonstration of what a fit, strong, well-balanced and expertly choreographed human body is capable of doing.
For me, admiration begins when I see people doing things I cannot, and never could, do. It’s a very low bar, I know, but, even if it were a tall building, these people would leap over it in a single bound. They’d outpace it if it were a speeding bullet, and carry it on their shoulders, and even heads, if it were a locomotive. And in this show there’s not the tiniest sliver of Kryptonite in sight.
There’s also almost no equipment, just an acrobatics see-saw and a few plywood boards. Neither are there safety nets or flying-wires. The performers’ safety – and they do scale some dangerous heights, on top of human columns or in mid-air – is vouchsafed by their colleagues, subtly located around the structures and jumps to catch a fallen comrade.
The routines are stupendous. Mountains of human bodies form, melt and reform; a rigid column of three acrobats falls backwards, only to be thrown back to the upright by the crowd below; flying acrobats are catapulted so high they almost reach the Regal’s tower lights, to be caught in full splits below.
Bodies rise and fall, spread-eagle and dance; the sheer momentum of it all, the constant visual interest of what, it must be said, is a spectacular bunch of lithe, athletic bodies is captivating. (The troupe’s two enormous strongmen, Mikis Minier Matsakis and Evertjan Mercier may not look that lithe or athletic, but looks, it turns out, are deceptive.)
There’s no faux storyline al la Cirque du Soleil to stumble through, no garish costumes to gawk at (the whole company performs, like Clark Kent, in normal streetware) and only the unobtrusive, cello-based music of Valentin Mussou for accompaniment.
The motto of this wonderful company might be its nation’s – Liberté, égalité, fraternité. Liberty because they’ve abandoned the gaudy trappings of circus for the pure freedom of flight and movement. Equality because of how completely the spotlight is shared by all members of the company (while it’s true that the gravity-defying Zinzi Oegema is prima among equals, she still spends much of her time in the trenches). Fraternity because, as the company’s own motto says: “Alone one goes faster, together we go further.”
Look! Up in the sky! It’s Compaigne XY. Hold on tight to its cape and let it take you for a fly!