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Cirque Eloize's 'Cirkopolis' questions progress while itself dated

It’s hard to get a read on Cirque Eloize's “Cirkopolis" at NYU’s Skirball Center. Do we really need another commentary on the Industrial Revolution?

Cirkopolis Cirque Eloize "Cirkopolis" pits man against machine.
Credit: Valeria Remise

It’s a little hard to get a read on the mind-set of “Cirkopolis,” a production from the French-Canadian troupe Cirque Eloize at NYU’s Skirball Center. From the title, you’d expect it to explore the relationship between rough-edged urban reality and big-top flights of fancy. And it does, but in a very dated way. For example, gears are a constant in the design motif. It’s the big city, all right — circa 1800. Do we really need another commentary on the Industrial Revolution?

“Cirkopolis” begins in a regimented fashion, with troupe members moving in lockstep. The would-be comic opening features a clerk date-stamping an ever-increasing mountain of papers. But as it progresses, it loosens up, presumably due to the circus’s humanizing effect. If you can put aside its questionable thematic relevance, you just might have a good time. But don’t expect to be wowed; it’s not that kind of circus. It has a leisurely ambience, artsy in a non-pretentious way, and relies heavily on dance spiced with gymnastic elan. The mood is augmented by dreamlike music and energized by stunning video projections.

“Cirkopolis” is at its best when it’s at its most lyrical: a young woman rotating herself and an oversized hula hoop, three women gracefully maneuvering on a trapeze, a man gyrating in a steel wheel — all enhanced by fanciful song. Handstands on partners’ hands and bodies flying through the air are also impressive. But nothing ever knocks your socks off. There’s no act so unique or thrilling that you gape in awe. “Cirkopolis” has no shortage of gymnastic sparks, but it never catches fire.


If you go

Cirque Eloize’s ‘Cirkopolis’
Through Jan. 5
NYU Skirball Center for the Performing Arts,
566 LaGuardia Place
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