Aurelia's Oratorio

Isaac Theatre Royal, Christchurch

07/08/2007 - 12/08/2007

Westpac St James, Wellington

25/07/2007 - 29/07/2007

Production Details

Directed and created by Victoria Thierree Chaplin

Magic and Mystery Meld Together in Aurelia’s Oratorio

Inspired by the magic of music hall, variety and circus, Aurelia’s Oratorio conjures up a magical world where nothing is as it seems.

This stunning show which melds dance, theatre, circus and illusion, has just completed a season at the prestigious US dance festival, Jacob’s Pillow and now comes to the Westpac St James Theatre, Wellington for a strictly limited season from Wednesday 25 June.

“Fluid, sensual, stylish – sublime” – The Times, UK

Aurelia Thierree has been performing on stage since early childhood , beginning her career in her parents’ celebrated shows Cirque Imaginaire and Cirque Invisible. Aurelia collaborated with her mother, Victoria Thierree Chaplin, to create the show Aurelia’s Oratorio. Her show continues the family performing tradition – Aurelia’s brother came to New Zealand in 2006 and stunned audiences with his show Bright Abyss, and previously with The Junebug Symphony.

On stage with Aurelia is US dancer Julio Monge who during his 20-year career on stage, film and television, has worked with America’s finest talent including Jerome Robbins, Leonard Bernstein, Chita Rivera, Julie Andrews, Meryl Streep, Paul Simon, Ruben Blades, and others renowned and respected in the world of dance.

Critics have heaped praise on the ‘whimiscal antics’ and ‘clever design’ of Aurelia’s Oratorio:
“Unforgettable, beautiful and unlike anything seen since the heyday of Harry Houdini” –

She does wonder wonderfully” – The Guardian, UK

Aurélia’s Oratorio, starring Aurélia Thierrée and directed by her mother, Victoria Thierrée Chaplin, (yes, that Chaplin – Aurélia Thierrée is Charlie Chaplin’s granddaughter), contained more than a bit of Chaplin in her performance.
But it was Chaplin for the 21st century. An elegantly acted and performed program that dealt with issues of time and space, magically distorting both through circus-like gestures that were smartly choreographed and juxtaposed.”
Berkshire Living

Aurelia’s Oratorio is at the Westpac St James Theatre, Wellington from 25-29 July as part of the Museum Hotel International Winter Season. Book at Ticketek  

Aurelia Thierree

Julio Monge

Choreography, sound, stage and costume design:
Victoria Thierree Chaplin

Lighting design:
Laura de Bernadis, Philippe Lacombe 

Sound / Technical Management:
Monika Schumm

Lighting Technician:
Thomas Dobruszkes

Backstage support:
Monika Schwarzl
Aurelie Guin
Nicola Reese

Stage Manager:
Gerd Walter

Theatre , Dance ,

1 hr 15 min, no interval

Glorious whimsy created with seeming insouciance

Review by Lindsay Clark 08th Aug 2007

It is difficult to write dispassionately about a piece of theatre art which has restored, temporarily at least, the belief that nothing is impossible. In the ‘Oratorio‘ everyday reality is completely and compellingly suspended as every inch of performance space acquires new possibilities and new dangers. They have nothing to do with the established rules and expectations we live by and everything to do with defiance of those rules.

Thus the human body can go anywhere, appear anywhere, deconstructed or put together in extraordinary ways. Bits of it can be rejected and tossed aside.  Physical laws are turned inside out, so that a shadow casts a man. Usual ways of doing things are reversed as washing is hung out to get wet. In this environment, the human presence itself becomes insubstantial or fragmented and can be engulfed as easily as darkness swallows up light. It is enthralling performance art.

The programme is made up of a series of glimpses of this surreal world, sometimes reminiscent of dance, sometimes of cirque. There are moments of lyrical beauty and moments of unexpected terror, but a sense of delighted laughter and the sheer joy of imagination at full stretch is never far away.

Huge crimson hangings contain the world in tatty splendour, suggestive of Victorian theatre. They are of course, not just curtains but assume a life of their own, even partnering up and producing a baby curtain. At other time they are a pathway, a haven, a source of endless possibilities and initiatives. Against the dark stage they, along with other non- human material acquire purposeful life.

Among the most interesting of the reversals is a puppet show, where a bevy of puppets watches a human head perform, subsequently turn on the performer, savage her and drag her away. This awareness of the precarious frailty of the human is beguilingly explored in another favourite sequence where a maiden in the snow (more curtain magic) is unravelled by a snow crystal monster and has to re-knit herself. The explanation is clumsy – the live version is pure magic. At the deeper level such art invites us to consider, humankind’s blind complacency is challenged.

Aurelia Thierree, lithe as a flame, carries the performance with flawless technical ease rarely seen on our stage. Given her background as the granddaughter of Charlie Chaplin, reportedly born in a trunk while her mother – Victoria Thierree Chaplin, creator and director of this work – was on tour, and with her brother also an actor and illusionist, it is little wonder that this elfin creature should create such glorious whimsy with such seeming insouciance.

She is splendidly partnered by Julio Monge, whose dramatic dance scenes are nothing short of memorable. Following the pattern of events in this anarchic world, his relationship with his coat becomes a life-threatening affair and provides one of the highlights of this extraordinary performance.

Other illusionists, not named in the programme and impossible anyway to distinguish in the shifting realities presented on stage, complete the team. One can only wonder at the complexities of timing and management that happen beyond the performance area to sustain the magic. It is the magic itself that we crave and are here gifted so generously.   


Make a comment

Tricks of the eye

Review by Catherine Bisley 27th Jul 2007

A desperate sounding Frenchman leaves a message on an answering machine. He wants Aurélia to ring him back. The legs, feet and head of the aforementioned Aurélia pop out of draws at random intervals and impossible angles as she dresses inside a dresser. Much of the publicity around Aurélia’s Oratorio has revolved on the fact this pretty ingénue is Charlie Chaplin’s great-granddaughter, Aurélia Thierrée. I was interested to see how the genes fared after three generations of dilution. Her parents, Victoria Thierrée-Chaplin and Jean-Baptiste Thierrée, are responsible for a number of great Arts Festival pieces (most recently The Junebug Symphony), and certainly have the gift: I will never forget being eleven and in the gods at the Opera House, breathless as again and again, Aurélia’s mother swooped toward me on a trapeze (I went back for a second sitting of Le Circle Invisible). [Read more]


Make a comment

Treat after treat

Review by Thomas LaHood 26th Jul 2007

The theatre of illusion is close to my heart, ever since as a child I was taken to see Compagnie Phillipe Genty at the International Festival of the Arts.  The sense of wonder and enchantment I experienced then has stayed with me as an indelible high-watermark that only a few shows (Slava’s Snowshow, Circus Ronaldo’s La Cucina Dell’ Arte) have matched since.

This wonderful show is definitely from the same stable, a thoroughbred in fact, created, directed and performed by descendants of no less than the great Charlie Chaplin himself.  Though this should not recommend the show in itself, the family pedigree is clearly visible in the sumptuously rich artistry on display.  From the moment Aurélia Thierree (and unseen others) begin the impeccably timed and executed chest of drawers sequence that opens the show and features heavily in the publicity, it is clear we are watching theatre of a calibre that is rarely available to a New Zealand audience.

From there it’s simply treat after treat: a ceaseless string of vignettes, tableaux and dances that stretch the imagination in all kinds of wonderful directions.  The action moves all around the stage, as well as up, down and through the proscenium arch itself.  Some ‘bits’ are more elaborate than others, particularly a ‘stage within a stage’ sequence that provides the most exquisite snow effects seen in Wellington since Slava’s Snowshow.  But even the most simple tricks and gags are clever and surprising.

Lead performer Aurélia Thierree spoke in Wednesday’s Dompost of "an underlying heavier theme that it’s up to the audience to find or not".  I must confess, amidst the flighty, dreamlike magic unfolding before me I was unable to decipher any clearly defined meaning – not that this diminished my enjoyment of the spectacle.  The show contains a great range of tone, from frothy sight-gags to some very dark moments including a suicidal puppet, and a smoking baby that could have come straight from one of Jo Randerson’s local productions.

Performing almost all of the onstage action, Aurélia Thierree and Julio Monge project confidence and finesse through what is clearly a gruelling physical endeavour.  Complicated costume changes, both offstage and on, seemingly impossible entrances and exits, aerial stunts and breathless choreographies are all accomplished skilfully by the talented duo.  Thierree convinces more with the illusions and has an extraordinary physicality – no doubt part of the genetic legacy of Chaplin – that makes for some incredible how-did-they-do-that moments.  Monge, however, has great charm and presence, particularly when taking the ‘man dances with his empty coat’ routine and making it his own.

The three other, largely invisible, onstage performers are equally important: Monica Schwarzl (also the show’s technical manager), Aurélie Guin and Nicola Reese orchestrate many complex machinations, and bring a lot of life to the puppet element of the show – both the delightfully sinister glove puppets and the other-worldly giant 2-dimensional stick puppets of the snow scene.

But the real credit for this masterpiece must go to Victoria Thierree Chaplin, Aurelia’s mother and Charlie’s daughter.  She is the creator, director, choreographer, sound and set designer, as well as designer of the incredible costumes which feature extensively as fundamental elements of both the dance and illusion components of the show.

It’s true that to this critic’s eye not every part of the show was technically flawless, but the spell woven by Aurélia’s Oratorio was powerful enough to suspend even the most cynical disbelief, and Wellingtonians would be foolish to miss the chance to see this kind of magic while it’s here.
For more production details, click on the title at the top of this review. Go to Home page to see other Reviews, recent Comments and Forum postings (under Chat Back), and News.  


Make a comment

Alternate worlds explored through circus-hued eyes

Review by Lindsay Davis 26th Jul 2007

Aurelia’s Oratorio is the most sublime piece of circus theatre that Wellington audiences will get the opportunity to see this year. Its fantastical world of illusion will transport you into the further most recesses of your mind.

Starring Aurelia Thierree, the granddaughter of Charlie Chaplin and daughter of circus theatre pioneers Victoria (who wrote the show for her) and Jean Baptiste Thierree – whose Le Cerque Invisible was one of the highlights off the 1998 Festival of the Arts – this performance is very much about the theatre of the mind where our everyday reality and perceptions are challenged.

Thierree’s work, along with four supporting actors, while being physical and drawing on elements of vaudeville, is more about letting your imagination go as simple props – a chest of draws, a coat rack, clothes that dance and twitch on their own, cascading rivers of plush red material – take on a Lewis Carroll—like significance where even the simple act of getting dressed not only has the crowd laughing its appreciation but also shaking its collective head in wide-eyed wonder.

Just like when brother James’ Junebug Symphony dazzled audiences, the hand is very much quicker than the eye and reality, like in Alice in Wonderland, is what you make of it. The end result is a topsy-turvy world that’s absurdist at times – but always charming. And, just as in real life, there’s a dark undercurrent that invades Aurelia’s restless dreams – headless figures, ticking clocks, wild animals and especially the colour red, which evocatively dominates the set and costumes.

Without wishing to give anything away, for this is theatre that demands its audience suspend belief, the closing scene alone recalls a Salvador Dali moment that left an appreciative audience wondering wonderfully at this whimsical piece of conceptual theatre. 
For more production details, click on the title at the top of this review. Go to Home page to see other Reviews, recent Comments and Forum postings (under Chat Back), and News.  


Make a comment

Wellingon City Council
Aotearoa Gaming Trust
Creative NZ
Auckland City Council