‘La Galerie’, by Machine De Cirque

Review from: Assembly Rooms, Edinburgh Festival Fringe; 2nd August 2019

Let’s get it out there. I really loved this show. With all the technical mastery and solid production values we’ve come to expect from Quebecois circus, Machine De Cirque, from Quebec City, also have an ineffable quality of Quirk. La Galerie is an Alice in Wonderland trip beyond the restrictive norms of cultural conformity into the limitless possibility of creativity. And it’s a massive laugh in the face to anyone who says that circus is not art. More so, to anyone who insists art and entertainment cannot coexist. Director Olivier Lépine has conjured something truly wonderful into the world.

At the start of the show, the performing company’s six men stand at the edges of the stage in formal contemporary suits, observing imaginary walls, gazing past us to fancied artworks in a pristine white gallery space. It’s seemingly sterile, but… Behind them, sits a woman in a bedraggled regency hairdo, boots and coat, holding a saxophone and watching us with a sombre face. This is Lyne Goulet, who performs the role of gallery tour-guide in a language that sounds like it might be German, or underscores the acrobats’ physical compositions with a range of instruments, bringing to life Marie-Hélène Blay‘s music. She also eyes us, creating a link between the distant art aficionados and our presence in seated rows, a less obvious guide to the more surreal adventure we’re about to enjoy.

Pauline Bonanni joins the gallery voyeurs, and we start to see that this art appreciation has a dark, competitive undertone. A dog-eat-dog streak and complicated dance of moves. The stage populates with art objects – classical juggling clubs, each alone on a pedestal. The observers begin to touch, to test, to try the art, ensemble realisations of individual interpretation and discovery against sheep-like conformity.

‘La Galerie’, by Machine de Cirque IMAGE: Emmanuel Burrie

There are some great funky moves, particularly those where an acrobatic figure and a juggling toss or catch combine. Shapes and balances are sculptural and dynamic. We learn how to deal with those pesky queuing barriers as they’re manipulated into morphing labyrinths, tying the gallery-goers in knots of one-upmanship. When one of the complicated tricks doesn’t land, it’s shrugged off with a lovely nonchalance that’s reassuring to us looking on. We don’t have to worry. They’re professionals. They’ve got this.

Goulet’s tour-guide spiel develops into a glorious auction-house cadence, setting off a polyphonic rhythm play of vocal pitches from everyone onstage. It’s busy, but carefully so. My eye knows where to look, and there’s always something amusing or amazing happening. From my centre seat, I get a dual picture of Bonanni’s Russian bar flying, reflected in a tall mirror at the back of the set, finishing off as bases Gaël Della Valle and Hugues Sarra-Bournet launch her to top a three-high.

La Galerie has a surreal, abstract sense, but the joy of that is that, once I’ve settled in, I don’t have to worry about ‘translating’ meaning and can just absorb what sticks. The show is – or seems to be – about personal interpretation, after all.

I always get excited when I see a German wheel, and Adam Strom does not disappoint, as around him the transforming and shifting set takes us behind-the-scenes of an artist’s imagination. The reflection in the mirrored wall is now occupied by our own faces, looking back at not-quite-ourselves in the shiny by slightly warped surface. Atmospheric echoing saxophone heralds manually created strobe-light effects as the mirror panel starts to spin on its horizontal axis.

‘La Galerie’, by Machine de Cirque IMAGE: Emmanuel Burrie

Different time periods pop up and pass away in music or costume. Percussive sounds come from comical instruments: maracas, zither and a vacuum cleaner. Circus popcorn takes a starring role amid table-tumbling tumult. A newly built sculpture allows us to pause and appreciate delicately balanced headstands. Alice-in-Wonderland adventurer Bonanni begins to take the lead with her own creative ideas, finally returning from the top of a three-high back to the Russian bar.

Of course, we arrive back in the gallery before the end, and we watch a new painting created, the inspiration and drive between abstract creativity revealed. Colours glisten in the light. This is one of those Big Grin shows. Exceptional, creative circus AND something for the interpretive muscles to enjoy too. Big smiley faces all over my notebook 🙂

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