Action-packed ‘Hotel’ from Cirque Éloize

making their entry: artists of cirque eloize

Ed. note: This article was commissioned and first published by The Soraya. It is republished on artsmeme with permission.

They hurtle, tumble, and spin. They climb, juggle, and balance. Often, in practice, they fall. They’re the riveting performers of the Montreal-based contemporary-circus troupe Cirque Éloize (“ell-waz”). Their tireless dedication to their art has led them to the topsy-turvy world of Hotel, their latest spectacle. Set in an Art Deco lobby that recalls Grand Hotel (the MGM Garbo classic), Hotel will enjoy a run at The Soraya on Saturday and Sunday, January 25 and 26. 

una bennett, antonin wick in cirque eloize ‘hotel’

Many Cirque Éloize artists have been rigorously training since a tender age—five or six. One of them, Una Bennett, a Seattle-born aerial artist, says she began acrobatics while “knee-high to a grasshopper.” With graceful movements and petite stature, Bennett explains that she was often pegged as a dancer. She insists, however, “I never took a dance class. I have only done circus.” She went on to graduate from Canada’s National Circus School where she polished her craft as a world-class master of rope, while “minoring” in hula hoop. She also “bumps it with a trumpet” and a sousaphone.

ms. bennett & cyclical friend
photo Laurence Labat

With Cirque Éloize, Bennett’s key skills are “aerial,” referring to a bundle of daring tricks and stunts she does in the air.  While that includes the well-known trapeze, it is the rope she prefers most. “With other aerial work, you can see the apparatus more than the body on it. The rope makes it easier for the audience to see my body.” Plus, she adds, the rope is “flowing.” That may seem like an unlikely description until you witness the elegant and expressive way she performs a duet–not with a real partner but with (essentially) a hanging cable. In defiance of both gravity and logic, she seems to slide up the rope.

The Executive Director of The Soraya, Thor Steingraber, who has booked the troupe for the past two seasons (last year with Saloon, the Wild West-inflected show) sees a critical difference with Cirque Éloize – “In some cirque companies, each performer is a specialist in just one skillset. Éloize is filled with powerhouse performers—who do it all.”

One all-rounder, company clown Antonin Wick, also began training as a youngster in his native Switzerland. By age five, he was copycatting, mocking and mirroring others, only to discover how much he liked the sound of laughter. At 16, he attended Lezarti’cirque, a school in Sainte-Croix. He then went abroad to finish his studies at the National Circus School in Montreal.

Upon learning about a new “Cirque” production, Hotel, Wick’s first thought was, “I could be the clumsy concierge.” He brings a clown’s insight to the role. “My character is trying to manage his hotel, but he is super irresponsible. He is not able to keep things in order.” 

Wick’s influences include Chaplin, Keaton … and Mr. Bean. But his real favorite has national origins. “When I was five or six, I fell in love with Grock, a really old Swiss clown my grandparents introduced to me. He made me laugh a lot, and I fell in love with this art. I bought books; I got an old VHS of his act in the 1940s.”

Both Bennett, the aerialist, and Wick, the clown, “feel the house” as they perform. “I can sense the audience,” says Bennett. “If I wiggle a couple toes, I feel if they are with me.” For Wick, it’s the kids. “It’s awesome to hear them laugh. They are much freer, and they laugh before the adults.”

Tooting on quirky brass instruments, the cast also performs a jazzy score by composer Éloi Painchaud. The director of Hotel, Emmanuel Guillaume, takes these key ingredients—theater, dance, live music, and acrobatics—and populates his stage with a cast of characters: tourists, guests, clerks, maid handyman, maître d’, and naturally a set of honeymooners. “Cirque”’s cast of twelve clowns, tumblers, jugglers, and acrobats double and triple up on these roles. This is one action-packed Hotel!

Dance critic Debra Levine is editor/publisher of arts●meme. In 2019 she enjoyed her first byline in the New York Times.

Hotel | Cirque Eloize | The Soraya | Jan 25-26

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From ‘Pike’s’ to ‘Hawaiian’: Mojave Desert motel dreams

Architecture & Design

Ed. note: Guest writer Jeff Burbank shares words & photos from an intriguing, if spooky, desert discovery.

The ghost of Norman Bates would seem to be alive and well at a certain abandoned motel in forlorn Baker, California. This Mojave Desert hamlet still considers itself the Gateway to Death Valley, but, in reality, Baker serves mainly as a pit stop between Los Angeles and Las Vegas. Most of Baker’s independently owned hostelries and cafes have been shuttered, overtaken by corporate-owned motels and fast-food chains. Even the iconic Bun Boy restaurant, notable for its strawberry pies and “world’s tallest thermometer” is defunct.

At the western edge of town lies the boarded-up remains of the incongruously christened Royal Hawaiian Motel. No spirit of aloha now pervades these boarded-up lodgings (if it ever did); and I discovered that the Royal Hawaiian originated in the 1940s as Pike’s El Rancho, after I realized that the image on an old linen postcard rattling around in my glovebox exactly matched the mummified motor court that stands unvisited along the main drag.

In a town where it would be too expensive to tear it down, why bother to demolish something that isn’t going to be replaced? So instead, it stands sentinel in the Mojave in a state of arrested decay, not unlike the funerary temples of the pharaohs in a desert much farther away.

Los Angeles writer Jeffrey Burbank has contributed to L.A. Weekly and the Los Angeles Review of Books. He is the recent author of  “The Technicolor Desert: Cinema and the Mojave.”

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