As part of HOME’S France Now—a close-up look at life on the other side of the Channel via live performances—Rochefort-based Compagnie Pyramid brings its hit show Ballet Bar to the venue. This quirky, exuberant blend of hip-hop and circus runs relentlessly for an hour without an interval, hardly allowing its five performers to stop for breath.
The title is something of a misnomer—there’s no ballet anywhere to be seen—but it is set in an underground bar, frequented by customers in trench coats and trilbies and staffed by a waiter who spit-shines the glasses.
These characters interact via a mix of hip-hop styles, with speedy footwork, popping and locking, incredible feats of flexibility and plenty of crowd-pleasing acrobatic tricks—backflipping off the bar, spinning on their heads and scuttling across the stage in exaggerated crab poses.
Interspersed between these energetic bursts of dance are surreal mimed skits using hats, newspapers and other props—a slight relaxation of the pace, but they are nonetheless witty and highly comical pieces that transcend the language barrier (and feel very French).
There’s great interplay between the performers, who are clearly enjoying themselves, but there’s also a strong connection established with the audience from the start. The show begins with the waiter arriving to open up the bar, and as he blows a cloud of dust off the gramophone a hacking cough comes from the audience—one of the performers, planted, who proceeds to climb down over Theatre 2’s seats. The other cast members surface from the rows, shouting, scrambling over heads and trying to pull audience members from their seats. Yes, it’s unexpected audience interaction, but it’s funny, it’s brief and it’s done with a great sense of fun.
Ballet Bar’s jazzy soundtrack extends the impression of the Prohibition era created by the costumes and set, but has influences of tango, salsa, classical music and more. A gramophone is the centre of the action, with characters changing records and responding to the different genres.
Had this show been longer, the format might perhaps have worn thin and the idea of introducing a sixth character (ideally a female one, to bring some balance) might have been appealing. But as it is, Ballet Bar is a highly entertaining show that should enjoy a great reception on its world tour and leave audiences everywhere grinning from ear to ear.