He Who Falls

He Who Falls
Conceived, directed and staged by Yoann Bourgeois
Performers: Julien Cramillet, Dimitri Jourde (alternating with Jean-Baptiste André), Elise Legros, Jean-Yves Phuong, Francesca Ziviani, Marie Vaudin

March 1-4 2018, Bluma Appel Theatre, Toronto

Reviewed by Ted Fox

Yoann Bourgeois, artistic director of Compagnie Yoann Bourgeiois, conceived and directed He Who Falls. He is an acrobat, actor, juggler and dancer.

He Who Falls is the English translation of the original French title Celui qui tombe which actually translates as The One Who Falls. It is not gender specific.

The set design consists of a mechanized platform/raft that represents our planet, our world, our society in which all are striving to survive whatever is thrown at them-- whether it be wars, nature or just being alive. All must stick together as a group. It's all for one and one for all. In the end they are left hanging and drop one by one.

As this production is from France It could be inspired by French painter Theodore Gericault and his famous work, Raft of the Medusa. This painting powerfully portrays the aftermath in 1816 of the wreck of a French frigate in which a raft had to be built for over 100 people to survive. This painting is displayed in the Louvre. The text on their website states that this "painting stands as a synthetic view of human life abandoned to its fate." For me this exactly sums up the content of this piece.

The performers are not choreographed but react to the centrifugal force of the mechanized platform. Their agility, physical strength, coordination and timing are awesome. They spin, move and interlock, while the set moves: swaying backwards, forwards and pushed around constantly by gravity changes. It spins like a planet in orbit or a raft snared in a whirlpool. Or lurching and tilting back and forth in a storm.

A woman runs and leaps over the others splayed on the surface as it constantly spins and tilts, never falling or missing a step. It looks so easy to do as she never flags for an instant.

Two figures wearing headlights appear in the dark beneath and dismantle the rotation device. The platform is now grounded yet still hanging from cables.The performers push the platform up and over. As it returns they wait, standing till the last second, and roll under it as it straightens. One waits too long and seems to be hit full force. Others jump and hang on the sides.

The lighting design highlights their facial expressions so we can easily read them. This unspoken facial dialogue includes, What do we do now? Are you dropping now or me? What is going on here? Oh, no, not again! There is humour here as there is in the whole piece.

It's also brightly luminous at times, turning what happens into a painting. They move up a 45 degree angle till their shadows move behind like truncated crabs. Many times the platform radiates a golden glow, its texture and surface glistening like an abstract painting. Occasionally one leaves the group and goes it alone, walking to the edge, his weight causing the platform to tilt down with him. The others adjust to the new gravity.

The music selection is a mix of classical, pop and seemingly improvised polyphonic operatic vocalization. This amid the sounds of the creaking floor and the whirring machine sounds are really effective, including an amusing use of Frank Sinatra crooning "I did it my way."

This show skillfully fuses contemporary dance with circus arts to create a highly entertaining and somewhat political production.