As I stepped into the empty Sands Theatre, I could hear the soft taps and leaps of feet from behind the curtain. I was back in Singapore, back at the MasterCard Theatres at Marina Bay Sands, but this was the first time I was told to take any seat I wished. Joy!
I had been invited for the press preview of Cirque Éloize iD performance, which would officially open just a few hours later with a cast of 15 talented performers freshly landed from Montreal. As members of the media streamed by with their massive tripods, video cameras, mikes and booms, I followed their lead and beelined for a seat front and center - best to learn from the pros.
Cirque Éloize has graced Marina Bay Sands with their jaw-dropping acts once before in 2011. However unlike Singaporean circus lovers, this was my first time experiencing their unique fusion of circus arts, contemporary hiphop and vivid digital imagery.
Under the artistic direction of Jeannot Painchaud, a native of the beautiful Magdalen Islands off the coast of Quebec, Cirque Éloize has kept audiences spellbound in over 50 countries, 500 cities, and in over 4,000 performances. Unfortunately for KLlites, I don't think that has included Kuala Lumpur thus far, although I have gently suggested to their manager that they would not be remiss to schedule us in next time they tour SE Asia!
But back to their origin story - in the mid-1980s Jeannot was busy studying at the National Circus School while simultaneously building his reputation as a street performer in Montreal. Even after he joined renowned circus troupes, he continued performing on sunny sidewalks and promenades for over a decade.
His love of street theatrics, of the interplay of hiphop and b-boying, his understanding of how to grab the attention of fickle audiences - all of this is evident in the creation of Cirque Éloize's distinctive performances.
Cirque Éloize iD is definitively urban; it's set in a bustling, frenetic, clamoring street-scape and pays homages to one of my favorite musical and love stories - the West Side Story.
Elements of that 1960's melodramatic musical is deftly woven into the 10 different circus acts and scenes; whether in the unfolding of a love story through hand-to-hand acrobatics or in a street-battle between feuding b-boys featuring freezes, flares and jump ropes.
As part of the preview, they performed three short sets for us, during which we were not only allowed but encouraged to go snap-happy. As my first time experiencing the press-side of an event, rather then as a normal patroness of the arts, I couldn't quite extinguish that naughty thrill of snapping photos in the dark. I half expected a scolding usher to pounce upon me with a grimace and glare.
A note that almost all the photos here are personally snapped from the preview, a couple are kindly shared by BASE Entertainment Asia from earlier performances to showcase some of the other acts that weren't previewed.
A surprise offering came at the end, when the press was given the chance to interview a few notable performers. Yet I must confess, I hesitated a bit. You'd think I'd be a hungry fish chopping on the line of opportunity for an interview with a world class performer.
Instead I felt a bit timid, sinking deeper into my plush seat, as television personalities and proper reporters sashayed center stage to get their stories.
I had to seriously atta-girl myself and shake off that poseur-ish feeling as a newly minted blogger, and honestly must I use that term? Nay I proclaim, so as a newly minted 'culture vulture', I approached the beautiful American aerial contortionist who had earlier captivated me with her seemingly spineless, boneless bends. You'll find a snapshot of our conversation at the end; wherein, I try to learn her secrets and whether I can yoga-my-way into those amazing body-bends.
The press preview was an interesting experience for me, while likely run-of-the-mill for established media, it gave me a glimpse of how arts and media converge to ensure that the public doesn't miss these spectacular events.
As an admirer of the sheer talent, dedication and disciple of mind and body that circus performers encapsulate, the press preview whet my appetite for the daring and left me craving the aggregative adrenaline of an audience caught in mid-breath together, act after act.
I hustled back to Tiong Bahru on the MRT train, quickly showered, changed, read a thing or two and then sallied back out to meet friends for a quick drink at CUT before Cirque Éloize opening performance.
The energy in Sands Theatre on opening night was akin to a palpitating heart, excitement was bouncing off the crowds as we chatted, rustled in our seats, and sipped on champagne - Yes, Culture Vultures, you heard me correctly.
Not only can you order delicious bubbly by the handfuls but you can take it into the theatre.
As the lights dimmed, I sat with a little notebook on my lap. I have a sinking suspicion that this may not be the normal arts blogger method. My friends chuckled at my attempts to scribble notes in the dark without ever moving my eyes from the stage.
You see, there's a special kind of crowd-magic on opening nights. It's a fervent, collective wish issued by the performers and reciprocated by the audience to experience an incredible evening together.
We want to be swept up in the magic, to live in that tiny moment when the miraculous seems effortless.
The night always starts like this.
Tonight was no exception, and I realized that no insider press experience matches the bubbling excitement of the crowd as the stage darkens and the curtains open. And even though I have page after page of surprisingly legible scrawls, I cannot do justice to the breadth of their performance.
The stage was lively, and ever changing. Images and outlines of tall skyscrapers and city lights placed us in charged and slightly dangerous side streets. Which made me feel almost at home, but was likely a world away for Singaporean audiences.
The costumes were minimal and like a street performer, they stayed the same throughout. It kept the focus on the performers, who rightly lit up the stage.
We watched in awe at feats of strength that were only surpassed by the astounding balance it required. One fantastic performer balanced chair upon chair, to a towering height of about 12 chairs high, and then with the utmost confidence did a handstand at the top of the precarious pile.
We wondered at how the Cyr wheel could possibly keep spinning, round after round, as it twisted and flipped the performer in endless circles. We held our breath when the aerial acts balanced precariously over head, and then taunted us with instantaneous headlong dives halted just inches from the floor by the merest wisp of silk.
We tried to grasp how the troupe was able to perfectly time the force and height of their plunges from the Trampowall to always land exactly where they desired, fall after fall after fall.
It was the circus, and it was magical. You must experience it for yourself.
And then you must try to convince yourself that really, you don't want to run away and travel the world with this beautiful, talented, ridiculously strong and graceful troupe of performers...
Most times that works, but sometimes the circus catches you in its embrace. Sometimes you make it your home, as was the case for Nicole Winter, the American contortionist and aerial dancer, the youngest and newest member of Cirque Éloize.
As I chatted with Nicole, I actually felt a bit relieved to learn that although all of us can improve our flexibility and dexterity with training, the ability to contort her body so elastically is something you must be born with.
As a child, she trained in Ballet but it was only after discovering a contortionist video on you-tube at the age of 14 and attempting to mimic it, that she realized this was her gift. I admired her strong sense of self that at the mere age of 16, she was already accepted into the National Circus School of Montreal to further her training in contortion. Since joining Cirque Éloize last year, she has become a part of the troupe's family. Training, traveling and performing together all over the world, they place their lives in each others hands everyday to shine a little bit of circus magic on our otherwise humdrum days.
Aside from her beautiful aerial routine, one of the movements she did had stunned me. She brought her legs over her head and began to rotate, and step them around her body so swiftly, that it felt almost like watching a spider dance. I had never seen anything like it before, and wondered perhaps if yoga or pilates helped to keep her body this limber.
Instead, I learned that the basis of her practice was to spending hours each day going though the actual movements and positions in her performance. When you watch the graceful nimbleness of her contortions and of Cirque Éloize's impressive iD performance, you realize that practice does indeed make perfect.
- Culture Vultures, I do hope you saw our postings on Facebook and Instagram (BatikandBubbles) earlier about the Cirque Éloize's shows and theatre dates. This particular show has already concluded, but there are a number of great new shows at the moment at http://www.marinabaysands.com/entertainment.html.
- Also for those wondering about driving down from KL and parking at MBS, there's complimentary parking if you have a certain minimum spend from the dining, shopping and ArtScience Museum that helps to off-set parking costs from 10 am till 4pm Monday to Thursday.
- If you're more likely to get down on weekends, another option is a carpark closer to the Singapore Flyer. Apparently its a pretty 10 minute walk over the Helix bridge, and let's be honest who can resist a bridge? Unless you're in heels, which you likely are - in which case definitely park at MBS ;) More driving & parking tips can be found here.