He Who Falls (Celui qui tombe)

Conceived, directed and staged by Yoann Bourgeois assisted by Marie Fonte
Compagnie Yoann Bourgeois - London International Mime Festival 2016
Barbican Theatre

He Who Falls by Yoann Bourgeois Credit: Géraldine Aresteanu
He Who Falls by Yoann Bourgeois Credit: Géraldine Aresteanu
He Who Falls by Yoann Bourgeois Credit: Géraldine Aresteanu
He Who Falls by Yoann Bourgeois Credit: Géraldine Aresteanu
He Who Falls by Yoann Bourgeois Credit: Géraldine Aresteanu

Survival of the fittest, acts of balance and fearlessness, dexterity and cooperation, physics and all the fun of the playground magnified, amplified by six performers without the fanfare of the circus yet with all its skills, He Who Falls / Celui qui tombe premiered at the Lyon Biennale de la Danse in 2014.

On the Barbican Theatre’s deep and wide bare black stage, a huge suspended platform tips, pivots, spins, tosses like Géricault’s ‘Raft of Medusa’ on a stormy sea—this bit is definitely not for those prone to motion sickness. Three couples lean in, cling, climb, slip, slide, in Sisyphean task, trying not to fall off, as tectonic plates pitch and shift.

The steel cables attached to the four corners are removed and a hydraulic jack comes into play, continuing to destabilise the occupants on a rotating world tilting on its axis. Centrifugal forces, a vertical wall of death, irresistible dynamics, the six cling to each other in defying dance, small particles keeping balance in an alien universe.

Sculptural groups form, cluster and give counterweight to a spinning forcefield: the physics of circus art up close deconstructed and exhibited in swirling, skating, lift-off lithe flow. Boy meets girl on this spinning ballroom floor.

‘Morlock’ mechanics with miner’s lamps on foreheads dismantle the monumental black metal jack—it has served its purpose. The platform swings free—this is fun. Aerial gymnastics and childish glee: push the swing out as far as it will go, then watch it come back and duck underneath it—remember that childish game—on its return jump on. Except this swing must weigh a ton.

The world is out of kilter, but a Gallic shrug, acrobatics, feats of strength, and poise deal with that. Maybe a little prayer though: the Casta Diva aria makes sense in this context, but is Frank Sinatra’s My Way a tongue-in-cheek choice?

Adèle Grépinet’s crepuscular lighting adds drama to an adventure playground: roundabouts, climbing wall, swings, seesaw. And no safety net—the dangers are real, a false move, a mistake of timing and it doesn't bear thinking about. The butterfly effect—the smallest of moves can have big consequences—made manifest in a mesmerising sixty-five minutes.

Silence: who can hold the longest on to the underside of the swing—the audience holds its breath, titters, claps—they drop one by one, last one down and lights out. Jean-Baptiste André, Mathieu Bleton, Julien Cramillet, Marie Fonte, Elise Legros, and Francesca Ziviani without any ostentation prove that even those allergic to the circus can be won over. Four years in the making, how clever is Yoann Bourgeois and his troupe… And they can sing—in harmony.

Reviewer: Vera Liber