Le Noir. The Dark Side of Cirque. Directed by Neil Dorward. Canberra Theatre Centre, Simon Painter and Tim Lawson. Canberra Theatre. Until May 10. Bookings: canberratheatrecentre.com.au.
Le Noir opens with a bit of clowning and a bit of audience involvement in true circus style. It is gentle fun giving little clue to the astonishing series of acts that follow. A company of amazingly skilled artists balance, skate, manipulate hoops, engage in aerial work, perform adagio and other forms of acrobatics, and spin large metal shapes. They amaze as they entertain and create magic, and their work is often heart-stopping and risky in the extreme. But Le Noir is also much, much more. It is probably the most theatrically beautiful and carefully planned and choreographed circus performance I have seen.
The transitions between acts are what make Le Noir so different. Every act is introduced by a kind of chorus of men and women who sometimes line, or sometimes dance down, a catwalk that leads to the small circular performing arena set up on the regular stage of the Canberra Theatre. I loved the opening to one section where a woman in a flowing, scarlet dress moved along the catwalk and onto the stage in a dance that looked like it came straight from the repertoire of Loie Fuller, the early American dancer who made a feature of swirling lengths of fabric. Of the acts, one of my favourites involved a gentleman who manipulated a Cyr wheel with incredible skill. Wearing white pants with braces and a pair of angel wings, and working inside his large metal ring, he spun his way in breathtaking fashion on what was really a very tiny space. But every single performer had so much to offer, including the master of ceremonies (also the clown) and his very surprising act with a large yellow balloon.
Why Le Noir? At the start the artists were clad in pristine white. A little later there was, magically and unexpectedly, a costume colour change to red, and only finally were the performers clothed in black. Well, there is a bit of an underbelly on show throughout the whole evening. The women slink and prance in incredibly high heels. They pose salaciously and wiggle their almost-bare bottoms. The men are bare-chested and look sexily at the girls. Is this the dark side? Who knows, except that in the end it's not worth thinking too hard about the name. The show is just too good to be bothered.
I was sitting onstage and was surrounded by the action. I was showered occasionally with white paper petals or shiny confetti. I felt I was sitting inside the lighting design, which was remarkable, and I had a wonderful close-up view of the costumes, including the way they were cut and constructed and the amazing array of materials used – lace, feathers, tulle, velvet, silk, sequins. You name it, it was there. From the auditorium I imagine the overall theatricality, which just can't be underestimated, must have been more obvious. But whatever view you have, this show is unique and definitely not to be missed.