The New York Times
SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 14, 1999
AIR THAT’S NOT SO THIN, AND CIRCUS ARTS WITH A HEART
By CINDY MARVELL
The vaudeville and circus arts will converge in New Jersey this month, with performances by Fred Garbo‘s Inflatable Theater Company and Cirque Eloize. After sold- out runs at the New Victory Theater in Manhattan, both troupes are ready to go out on their limbs in their pursuit of the dazzling, the eccentric, and the unexpected.
Imagine a cross between Woody Allen‘s flying machine in ”Sleeper‘‘ and the balloons in Macy‘s Thanksgiving Day parade, and you have some idea of inflatable theater. ”We like to blow up everything in the garage and laugh at inflation,‘‘ Mr. Garbo proclaimed from his home in Norway, Me.
Though capable of solo flight, his inflat ables more often than not have humans inside. His partner, Daielma Santos, is a Brazilian ballerina who trained at the Royal Academy of Dance in London. Together, they toss, dance and cavort inside and around creations ranging from giant cubes that unexpectedly sprout limbs to a full-length evening dress that adorns the elegant Ms. Santos. Then, of course, there is the beloved monstrosity Fred Zeplin, Mr. Garbo‘s inflated alter ego.
The spectacle of an overblown orange-and-purple man attempting dive rolls and cartwheels, performing handstands on a chair and imitating break dancers has been known to leave audiences gasping for air. ”People guess wrong if they think this is primarily for kids,‘‘ Mr. Garbo (originally Garver) said in a telephone interview.
For Ms. Santos, a frequent guest principal dancer and choreographer with the Portland Ballet in Maine, the chance to work with inflatables offered comic relief. ”I saw Fred bouncing around in the inflatable suit,‘‘ she said, ”and I thought: ‘Forget this pas de bouree stuff. I want to do something fun.’ ‘‘
Mr. Garbo‘s mixed bag of talents, from dance to circus arts, have landed him such diverse opportunities as a role on Broadway in the musical ”Barnum‘‘ and a guest spot in Moses Pendleton‘s dance company, Momix. After six years of collaborating with Bob Berky and Michael Moschen in the international touring show ”Foolsfire,‘‘ followed by eight years as Barkley the dog on ”Sesame Street,‘‘ Mr. Garbo decided it was time to broaden his horizons, and his costumes. The idea for the inflatable man began as a stage set designed by George York, who has created about 50 inflatables for Mr. Garbo over the last 10 years.
”It‘s a real acting job to get the characters across in a big bag,‘‘ Mr. Garbo said. ”It‘s like a very large mask that transforms into a living cartoon.‘‘
In rehearsal, Mr. Garbo and Ms. Santos use walkie-talkies to direct the action, but onstage they are on their own. By the end of the show, an entire household of inflatables has appeared. Yet the audience invariably shouts, ”More!‘‘
Mr. Garbo is negotiating with Kenneth Feld, director of Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Circus, who envisions an inflatable circus.”I always say were big people with a big show, but the circus is gigantic,‘‘ Mr. Garbo said. ”I might as well be in on the ground floor as a consultant.‘‘
SINCE Cirque Eloize made its New York debut three years ago, the troupe has changed its tone, but stunning physical skills and intimate clowning still dominate the show.
”Excentricus,‘‘ billed as ”a festival for the eyes, the ears and the heart,‘‘ expands the troupe‘s tradition of eccentric circus theater and humor.
Born in Quebec in 1993, the troupe sizzles with youthful energy and elan. A tour of Europe inspired changes in lighting, music, costuming and plot. ”The performers had the chance to work with a new director, Claudette Morin, and explore their individual characters,‘‘ said John Lambert, a former Cirque du Soleil clown who now manages Eloize. ”We have new clowns, and the atmosphere is more varied, more European in style.”
On a recent French tour, the Canadians performed 22 shows in five weeks, and their new production might be set in a smoky French cafe. It begins with a dimly lighted band, led by Lucie Cauchon, accompanying a languid figure stretched out on a trapeze above the stage, and continues with a mixture of whimsical choreography, passionate artistry and physical dexterity. Throughout the 90-minute performance, set to original music by Denis Hebert and Eric Bernard, bodies master apparatus with savoir-faire.
Jeannot Pinchard, a co-founder of Eloize, weaves his way through the entire production with his Felliniesque bicycle act. His fellow founder, Daniel Cyr, turns a freestanding ladder, typically used as a mere climbing post, into an athletic meditation of unprecedented variety. Somersaulting between the ladder‘s rungs and balancing at the top like a seal, he displays superhuman strength combined with a graceful yearning.
Marc Gauthier, a rope climber, commands the audience‘s attention as acrobats cavort beneath him. Shana Carroll, who is to join Cirque du Soleil‘s Australian unit next season, plays the winsome trapeze sprite; in a rhythmical, seductive solo (sometimes played by Marie-Eve Tumais), she opens the program with an aerial dance on the still trapeze. Sometimes staccato, sometime lyrical, she twists and winds herself around the bar with masterly control and minimal effort.
Early on, Mr. Pinchard takes a comical turn as he sets up a tumbling mat. Subsequent feats include a mini-trampoline sequence, hand-to-hand balancing and contortions, and a Chinese-style group balance atop a moving bicycle.
The troupe‘s five original members take the stage for a rare 15-club juggling act. Patterns, rather than tricks, dominate ensemble juggling, and the Eloize juggers use their acrobatic skills to create unusual formations, like three-man towers feeding clubs back and forth.
One of the jugglers, Jamie Adkins, is also the troupe‘s newest clown (and its lone United States citizen). A veteran of the Pickle Family Circus from San Francisco, Mr. Adkins performs a slack-wire solo and joins in the juggling and acrobatic numbers. Though performed to music, the solo is more character than choreography.
”It‘s hard to be graceful on the slack-wire because it‘s always sliding out from under you,‘‘ he said. ”The piece is all about the discovery of the wire. I took the four years I spent learning wire — the emotions, the fear — and squeezed them all into five minutes.‘‘ He has already accompanied Cirque Eloize to Hong Kong, Brazil and Europe, and says he plans to stay until he learns to speak French without having to resort to mime.
FRED GARBO‘S INFLATABLE CIRCUS
John Harms Center for the Arts 30 North Van Brunt Street, Englewood Next Sunday at noon and 3 P.M.
CIRQUE ELOIZE State Theater 15 Livingston Avenue, New Brunswick Feb. 26 at 8 P.M.