London International Mime Festival
Purcell Room at Queen Elizabeth Hall
If you've ever played the game "Jenga" you will recall a certain sense of anticipation - of tension - as you gently tease out another wooden block from the stack created. You're building higher and higher and gravity is against you. At some point, the entire structure you've created will tumble to the ground and the game will begin again.
At the London International Mime Festival, Compagnie Ieto have taken this idea and run a million miles with it, upping the stakes tenfold. Jonathan Guichard, a tightrope artist, and Fnico Feldmann, an acrobat, use three metre long wooden benches to create a range of structures which balance precariously against each other. And on which the two astonishing performers themselves balance.
It begins with just one bench placed vertically. Feldmann attempts to scramble up it and once this has been achieved Guichard nonchalantly knocks it over sending Feldmann flying. Steadily the structures become more complex and more terrifyingly unstable - every little wobble is an authentic one. It is the knowledge that these men could genuinely fall at any instant which makes Ieto such a thrilling theatrical experience. When both men balance atop a T-shaped structure of two benches, attempting to move to edge themselves as far as possible, the pieces fall apart sending them tumbling to the floor. Perhaps this is not "meant" to happen, but it certainly makes for a gripping experience which makes other acrobatic work pale in comparison.
In interrogating how far one can push such a simple idea - researching the possibilities of creating acrobatic numbers using wooden planks - Guichard, Feldman and their director Christian Coumin have created an intuitive piece of circus-theatre which charmingly explores the human need to push boundaries and strive to go further and further. A boy's voice accompanies the creation of each structure. He talks about paradoxes, about being confounded by the simplest of things and of guinea pigs running round and round in their little wheels. Guichard and Feldmann at once represent the guinea pigs, little boys daring each other to climb one branch higher, and the men they have become - striving to push their art and skill to new places.
Ieto began life as the winner of the Jeunes Talents Cirque Award, which strives to commission circus artists creating work which crosses boundaries with other art forms. Compagnie Ieto have brilliantly achieved this: along with scenographically innovative theatre, remarkable tightrope walking, and impressive back-flips, the performers are dazzling contemporary dancers. A duet in which their hands are constantly linked is touching, clever and fresh. It's only on for two more nights - jump off very high trees to get yourself a ticket!
To Saturday 31st January
Reviewer: Terry O'Donovan