Audace, Plic Ploc
Cirque d'Hiver Bouglione, Paris
Cirque du Plume, Paris
In the last thirty years French circus has been revolutionised. Under the banner of cirque nouveau, a generation of performers have sought to invigorate the form with the new goal of artistic expression.
This month, two troupes from opposing poles of the circus world have been performing in Paris. With its ringmaster, performing animals and red-nosed clowns, Cirque d'Hiver Bouglione's Audace is as old-fashioned as it comes. Plic Ploc on the other hand comes from Cirque du Plume, one of the most celebrated of the cirque nouveau troupes.
Far from a fascinating contrast though between traditional values and modern innovation: both shows were more like the kind of snotty drivel that drips off winter noses.
On the basis of Audace (literally 'daring' or 'audacity'), its not difficult to see why French circus came close to death in the 1970s. Juggling ping-pong balls from his mouth and boomeranging plates over the head of the audience, a Spaniard named Picasso was the highlight of the show.
Otherwise the mind-numbing evening consisted of performing poodles, hula-hooping stage-hands and a tiger that looked as bored as most of the audience. The show's title could hardly have been further from the truth.
Cirque du Plume's eighth creation however hardly provided a stunning argument for what has come since. With inspiration from George Bush's dumping of the Kyoto protocol, the stage was flooded with water leaking from every direction.
The premise lead to occasional moments of ingenuity - two lovers kissed while a heart mopped onto the floor was reflected onto a back-sheet. But director Bernard Kudlak's clumsy attempts at profundity reached their heady pinnacle with a raft floating over a river-bed of metronomes.
The rest of the evening consisted of aerial performers dangling from hosepipes, amateurish modern dance and a man dressed in a snorkel, mask, flippers and speedos pretending to be a penguin. As in Cirque Bouglione d'Hiver, the sheer discomfort of watching a clown routine in which no-one laughs was toe-curling.
Perhaps most disappointingly though, both groups have forgotten what lies at the heart of great circus: total physical daring combined with outlandish buffoonery. A circus in which neither your heart races nor your sides split is a failure, no matter what you call it.
"Audace" is at Cirque Bouglione to 19 February 2006.
"Plic Ploc" now on tour: 2 -12 February 2006, Caen ; 28 February - 5 March 2006 Le Havre ; 16 - 26 March 2006, Chambéry ; 21 April - 1st May 2006 Le Mans; 9 - 14 May 2006 Montceau-les-Mines; 25 May - 4 June 2006 Olhain; 25 June - 3 July 2006 Brussels; 3 - 8 October 2006 Chalon-sur-Saône; 1st - 23 December 2006 Lyon.
Reviewer: John Cardale