Hotel, the latest creation from contemporary Canadian circus Cirque Éloize, sets up its imaginary space in a hotel lobby, a place teeming with life and movement.
Celebrating their 25th birthday in 2019 with a UK première of Hotel, the piece is a breezy, chaotic, whirlwind 90 minutes that fizzles with energetic playfulness and dazzles with awe-inspiring acrobatic feats.
This isn’t circus as familiarised in the big top, but serves up similar feats in a framework of heart and soul where performers physically connect to each other as well as the audience. In the hotel lobby, celebrities and workers collide, as if a metaphor for the travelling circus itself, a truly egalitarian space, performers in the lobby are perpetually in transit, in motion on a journey elsewhere. Never in a fixed place.
This sense of momentum is captured brilliantly through a collaboratively talented ensemble. As suitcases fly around the stage, it’s all bellboys, cocktail mixing and gloriously fin de siècle cinematic nods, mashed together with tongue in cheek contemporary twists, bringing to mind Wes Anderson’s kooky feature film Grand Budapest Hotel.
This is what separates Cirque Éloize from its competitors. Each of the characters is invested in sharply observed comic timing that coincides beautifully with the performer’s acrobatic genius. Whether this be gulp-worthy juggling or phenomenal hula-hooping skills, all the breathtaking moments of circus entertainment are in place, but with additional depth of performance.
Reminiscent of black and white film stills and stunts from Harold Lloyd to Charlie Chaplin, Jérémy Vitupier performs on the slack wire with effortless comedy and grace. It feels as if this wire is attached between two giant tower blocks three hundred floors high rather than the London stage. Meanwhile, comic moments from Andrei Anissimov’s hilarious impression of a dog is matched by a sparklingly skilful Tuedon Ariri, using her contortionism, acting abilities and aerial straps to display impressive controlled balance, strength and expression, a joy to watch.
The music plays off perfectly against dramatic impulses of performers reflecting chaotic hotel lobby life in a fusion of sounds from far-reaching eras. Film noir, jazzy blues and live musical accompaniment by talented singer Sabrina Halde exudes sonorous folky vibes, blending cleverly with some of the more upbeat, clubby beats. The songs, written by Éloi Painchaud, are intrinsic to building the mood and atmosphere of the piece, even when at times the narrative is a little meandering.
The only downside to such high octane antics is that occasionally, the dramatic pace lags somewhat because, once we’ve got the point that the hotel lobby creates a truly democratic space, the heightened sense of chaos is rarely relinquished. While it's entertaining to watch the lively lobby melting pot, something new needs to happen.
There is a memorable scene that takes place inside the inventive geometric triangle-shaped set from Francis Farley-Lemieux. A character listens in to a scene in the triangular bedroom next door and gets entangled in her telephone wire, but such vignettes are fleeting and quickly move into something so mind-bogglingly acrobatic it’s hard to focus on anything other than the amazing capacity of human physical endeavour, so the thread is quickly lost.
Hotel may not deliver anything that hasn’t been seen before, but the show sweeps together seamlessly for the finale when the entire cast are positioned to showcase their incredible skills. The audience is packed full of families cooing with pleasure and the overwhelmingly talented cast dazzle with their abilities to swing up and down Chinese poles, in and out of character to reveal dizzying skills in true acrobatic intensity.