Peanuts and elephants and acrobats, oh my! Most people associate those things with the circus, but how often do we get to experience the circus from the comfort of theater seats? Yes, Cirque Du Soleil delves into the crossover of dance theater and circus arts, but Flip Fabrique, a Quebecois company of seven acrobatic dancers, plays with the concept of circus act meets proscenium stage in a refreshingly comical way. Through real-time musical performances, death-defying stunts and laughter-inducing personality pops, the Canadian company quite literally brings the circus to town for two days only at the Harris Theater with their touring production of “Blizzard.”
The ongoing joke of Canadians and their love of all things winter may not seem like a topic about which to create a captivating, evening-length performance. Yet with the opening of the curtain, the audience is invited to immerse themselves in a wintery wonderland filled with artificial snow and wisps of smoke. The dancers, adorned by puffy coats and snow pants, stand powerfully in a perplexing rectangular structure that’s partially blocked by what looks like a giant set of roped up stilts. The bodies in the space are oddly amorphous until they shed their cold weather protective layers to reveal snowflake covered shirts and ice-skating dresses.
The theater space lends itself well to acrobatics, who in this case perform on stilts. One base and one flyer climb to the top with an admirable swiftness, and as they begin an impressive series of catch-and-release partnering flips, the auditorium swells with a collective gasp. In the first section alone, it’s clear the packed house is rather applause happy. For with every gravity-defying flip and gasp-inducing partnering stunt, hundreds of clapping hands produce a wave of sound that hits the stage with an impressive force. It is decidedly cheerful to be part of an audience abundant with such enthusiasm, however it distracts from what could be uninterrupted artistry.
As the group switches from trapeze to comedy to juggling, there is never a shred of doubt. The group clearly trusts each other, regardless of whether it’s a simple lift or a jump from life-threatening heights. Everything they do requires a precise skill set that breeds an air of comfort through sure-footedness and secure handgrips. Yet it’s in the silks section of “Blizzard” that they truly test our comfort levels. The imagery is stunning as we see a man and a woman hiked several feet in the air; intertwining both their bodies with each other and their arms in the white silks they hang from. In this moment the duo proves they have an undeniable over-abundance of strength, beauty and grace.
In parallel to the circus performers, there’s magic in the live music produced real-time onstage. Musician and composer Ben Nesrallah steals the show with his electrically tricked-out piano, enhanced by what I assume is a microphoned radius. Nesrallah plays throughout the entirety of the 75-minute performance, and he interacts with the performers directly in specific moments, not unlike the rigs or sets the company uses.
Though “Blizzard” has elements of recognizable dance technique, the work doesn’t utilize the fluidity of transition so fundamental in most dance pieces. This acrobatics-based company performs with a stop-and-go tone, jumping from one section into the next, but fortunately they take the time flush out each respective section’s image. The rectangular box they began the piece housed in is the a true thoroughfare for the work. The dancers move it around the stage from section to section as the prop sheds walls, glass, and mirrors until it is an empty frame. It is the focal point of “Blizzard’s” first and final image, as well as a central aspect for everything in the middle.
Flip Fabrique brings artistic expression to life through multi-disciplinary artforms. They fill the theater with laughs as they perform comedic skits and act their way through imaginary snow days. They prove they have immense strength as their bodies move, drag, and laboriously lift mats, trampolines, boxes, and stilts into respective spots. But above all, they have palpable passion that’s felt throughout the performance through both trusting one another and trusting themselves. It is truly invigorating.