Cirque Mechanics’ Birdhouse Factory @ Long Center, 10/20-10/21

When prompted with the word ‘cirque,’ the most salient name that comes to mind is Cirque du Soleil, the Canadian acrobatic circus company that has had critical success in its many productions. What few of us realize, however, is that cirque (French for circus) is not limited to one troupe and is more generally used to describe an entire late 20th century movement of performance art called cirque nouveau. Characterized by human acrobatic skill with little or no incorporation of animals, cirque nouveau deviates from traditional circus in its use of stage theatrics and performance to convey themes and ideas that contribute to an overall story line.

Birdhouse Factory is only one of several cirque nouveau productions that have gained national prominence. The tale behind its inception, however, is entirely unique. Its creator, Chris Lashua, had his start not in theater or gymnastics but as a professional BMX rider. Eventually his extreme sport led him to a more artistic avenue when he was signed on to perform an acrobatic bicycle piece with Cirque du Soleil. After the show had retired and there was no longer a need for a bicycle, Lashua’s interest in staying with the circus led him to learn the German Wheel. With this new skill, he stayed on with Cirque du Soleil, touring with the show Quidam for five years. Lashua built his first German Wheel himself and then created a contraption he calls a trolley that allowed him to roll in place and perform on the German Wheel in a smaller space. It was these mechanical experiments that sparked his idea for Birdhouse Factory. In an interview for Penn State, Lashua states that “That first machine, that integration of mechanics and acrobatics, is really at the heart of what Birdhouse Factory is.”

Taking inspiration from the imagery and sociology of Rube Goldberg’s assembly lines, Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times, and Diego Rivera’s industrial murals, Lashua conceptualized a dark, 1940’s factory setting for the stage. A story of loss and love and the power of the human spirit, the production follows the lives of factory workers who have their oppressive routine turned upside down when a bird flies into the factory and causes chaos.

The gravity-defying stunts, contortion, and flying acrobatics are designed to astound children and adults alike. From dancers precariously perched on top of giant spools to tumblers on a bicycle driven, gear-laden contraption, Lashua deviates from the typical and exposes the inner workings of all the props, creating a visual spectacle of human strength enhanced by mechanical engineering. Performed by Cirque Mechanics, a team of former members of Cirque du Soleil, the Pickle Family Circus, and the Moscow Circus, Birdhouse Factory is a cirque nouveau masterpiece hailed by the New York Times as “exceptional, evocative, eye-catching, ear-catching and, to keep the list short, engrossingly entertaining.”

Do not miss Cirque Mechanics’ Birdhouse Factory at the Long Center for Performing Arts next Tuesday and Wednesday! For more information, and for a chance to win tickets to the show (you know the drill… click “I like it!” to enter in the drawing), check out the event page at Do512.

October 16, 2009. Uncategorized.

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