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As I write this, it rains. Every reader in North Carolina knows how to appreciate the relief from drought. We may have to thank Carolina Performing Arts for this happy condition, for it almost seems as if Cirque Éloize changed the weather when this Canadian modern circus troupe appeared at UNC-CH's Memorial Hall for a two-night run of their beautiful program Rain.
Modern circus is a blend, often surreal and even phantasmagorical, of traditional circus feats of skill and daring with dance, music, and spoken word. Often the effects are intensely poetic and moving, as was the case with Rain. Written by Daniele Finzi Pasca, Rain is more or less about the great pleasure and feeling of freedom that come from playing out in the rain. It is also about memory, and love, and loss or change, the latter a natural topic for the circus, with its penchant for transformations. The show’s humor exhibited the sublime ridiculousness of old Loony Tunes, and although sadness occasionally catapulted joy off the teeterboard, there was never any cruelty involved. Circus performers must take good care of each other, and that ethos pervades the script.
For all its artfulness, Cirque Éloize is still a circus, bringing us joyous amazement at the human body. Who doesn’t want to watch a man leap from the ground onto the flexible balance beam supported on the shoulders of two other men, and then see him bounce straight up into the air, do a double flip and a half twist, and land perfectly on the narrow beam? Who could turn away from jugglers’ antics? Would anyone not admire the strong men and women, with their stupendous lifting abilities and superb balance? Or the graceful women, daring and nonchalant, who climb the silks or hang from the high trapeze? There was plenty to ooh and aah over, but the fabulous feats were just the skeleton of the program’s poetic body.
From the opening, when one of the players comes out and speaks conversationally to the audience, using the magic storyteller’s voice, I was entranced. Throughout the performance, lured by the storytelling, memories of one’s own came out to play, braiding themselves through the stage images and making the performance even richer than a description of its acrobatics, gymnastics, juggling, contortions, mime, talking, singing, dancing, costumes and artful props would suggest. In the manner of much of the best art, Rain seemed to each viewer to have been made to speak directly and purposefully to his or her hidden heart. When, at the end, it actually began to rain on stage, the entire audience broke into cheers, as if the water we’d been longing for was falling on us as well, in answer to all our individual prayers.
I came away from the theater exhilarated and deeply refreshed in my spirit — and full of that inchoate longing engendered by humane and complete artworks. The hope of partaking of that paradoxical feast of feeling is what keeps me going back to the theater, and actually receiving the feast upon occasion makes me profoundly grateful to the artists — and to the presenters who laid the table and issued the invitations. They are shamans all, we might conclude from the actual precipitation now blessing us. The fact that it is raining will make my memories of the magical Rain even more beautiful.