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Le Noir: the Dark Side of Cirque

Heather Wallace

Those of the audience lucky enough to be ringside up on the stage, can see everything, every bead of sweat on the performers and every expression on their face.

Roll up, roll up!! The Circus is coming to town!! A sexy, daring, death-defying circus, where the only wild animals are the performers…

In the same vein as Cirque du Soleil, LE NOIR- the Dark side of Cirque, is a spectacle of human bodies performing amazing feats. Over the course of two incredibly tense hours the audience will witness displays of intricate acrobatics, nail biting balancing acts, and mesmerising mid-air tumbles.

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The stage is set up as a long runway, leading down to a circular area. It’s here most of the acts take place, every move precise. The beauty of this stage is that there’s nowhere to hide, everything you see is real and happening without illusion. Those of the audience lucky enough to be ringside up on the stage, can see everything, every bead of sweat on the performers and every expression on their face. There are some wonderful flourishes of theatrical distraction to give performers a chance to apply chalk to slippery hands or set up the next piece of equipment.

The show is divided into three acts: White, Red and Black, and tying each together is Sal, the Master of Ceremonies. A clown spouting greetings and commands in French, he moves amongst the audience, greeting les madames and monsieurs. Propelled by an inner energy and utter cheekiness, he reminded me of Robert Downey Junior trying a new career as a mime. Issuing commands in guttural French, he pulls unsuspecting audience members up to the stage; in the show I saw, he created the world’s most unlikely boy band.

Although I said there’s no illusion to the show, there is one artifice: Saul’s French accent. Originally a Hawaiian break-dancer performing at NBA basketball games, Sal was asked to join Cirque by Producer Simon Painter, performing in a variety of productions over eight years. Le Noir was built around Sal’s French clown, and he imbues proceedings with mischief and pantomime.

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Sal gave me the great treat of a backstage tour towards the end of their Melbourne run, showing me the rigs and equipment up close. Meeting him in person, he comes across as a ball of barely contained energy, his charm and love for his work shining through.

When I ask if he ever meets resistance from audience members he targets, he says the sometimes very hesitant participants become celebrities in their own right, with other audience members approaching them in the interval and after the show to congratulate them. “You see an entirely different person go back to their seat after they’ve been on stage,” he says.

He tells me too, the performers have become a family unit as the show has toured over the last few years, starting as a one-off in Tokyo, then touring China three times to crowds of around almost 10 000 in one venue. For its Australian leg, the show has been in Sydney and Melbourne, and is moving on to Adelaide before it comes to its final stop, Canberra on 6 May.

It might seem that Sal’s antics are the safest part of the act, but even he is performing without a net. The success of his shtick depends on involving the audience in the joke, and soliciting a performance from people who never imagined themselves front and centre. If you are in his sights, my advice is to go with it and have fun!

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With Sal’s influence, the show is a combination of cabaret, burlesque and acrobatics, and the intensity of Le Noir builds through the three acts of White, Red and Black. Tension escalates through music, light and tempo changes. Each act represents a different mood and style.

White is innocence, and there is an intimate sweetness to the young lovers on a high swing, supporting and trusting each other. There’s humour too, as a bridal couple roller skate to centre stage and spin each other around and around, removing their wedding finery with each turn, building to the bride being spun high in the air and only centimetres from the stage floor.

Red kicks in with a fiery beat, getting the blood pumping. Performers burst en masse onto the runway and strut their stuff, passionate and sultry in their physicality. A trapeze partnership sees a girl turned into a human swing, clasped hands the only thing stopping her falling. My own hands were covering my face as she pulled off her partner’s red satin tie and blindfolded herself, preparing for a heart-stopping trick. The music dropped away and the audience watched in rapt silence as she was tossed high in the air, no restraints to protect her if she fell, her entire safety relying on her muscle memory and her partner’s precision.

The transition to Black has a Gothic flavour, and the music becomes dark and velvety. The athleticism of the performers is spellbinding, evidence of hours of training and honing their craft. In the final act, the drama and danger intensifies, and I was left with no more nails to bite.

Before the show starts, make sure you take a deep, deep breath – you’ll need it for those moments when you’re holding your breath – and then, straight after, gasping for air!

the essentials

What: LE NOIR – The Dark Side of Cirque
Where: The Canberra Theatre Centre
When: 6-10 May
How much: $109 (on stage table); $99 (on stage seating); $99 (ringside premium); $89 A Reserve (Standard); A Reserve Group ($79 each for 6+); $79 B Reserve (Standard); B Reserve Group ($69 each for 6+)
Book: www.canberratheatrecentre.com.au

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Heather Wallace

Heather’s career in arts and heritage PR spans 15 years, with highlights including working for Sean Connery at the Edinburgh International Film Festival and promoting Australia’s World Heritage places. Her blog, Myths and Misadventures, (http://mythsandmisadventures.blogspot.com.au/), is about life lessons we can learn from the Romans. You can follow her on Twitter @Missmythology. More about the Author

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