Cirque Ici: Secret

Odlins Plaza, Taranaki Wharf, Wellington

22/02/2008 - 16/03/2008

New Zealand International Arts Festival

Production Details

"A blend of circus and extraordinary machines sprung from the imagination of a scientist poet" – Le Figaro

Johann le Guillerm is a modern-day Leonardo da Vinci. Part brilliant inventor, part performance maestro, a tamer and transformer.

Secret will hold you captive in a spellbinding evening of enchanting circus. Le Guillerm is an alchemist who can turn a cylinder into a square or conjure up a cyclone. He is joined by fantastic bedfellows, such as a horse-like mount made of hundreds of iron spikes topped by a saddle, or the fabric "creatures" who change shape under the ministrations of his whip. Rope, iron, wood – le Guillerm enters into a physical and mental dialogue with matter that will leave you dizzy with wonder.

Performing "circus acts that leave one incredulous", in a tent with traditional circular seating, le Guillerm invokes the intimacy and warmth of the circus of old.

A night at the circus like no other.

Music composition and live performance:  Mathieu Werchowski & Guy Ajaguin
Lighting:  Manuel Majastre
In charge of ring and handling sculptures:  Fanny Baxter & Franck Bonnot
Lighting design:  Hervé Gary
Construction of lighting machinery:  Silvain Ohl & Maryse Jaffrain
Costume design:  Corinne Baudelot, assisted by Sylvaine Mouchère
Steel shoes:  Didier Deret
Leather shoes:  Antoine Bolé
Circus sculptures:  Silvain Ohl, Maryse Jaffrain, Serge Calvier, Didier Deret, Lucas de Staël, Jean Christophe Dumont, Alain Burkarth, Michel Grossard, Cécile Briand

1hr 40 mins

Dark challenge to conventional expectations

Review by Helen Sims 29th Feb 2008

Secret feels almost like an anti-circus work – created and performed by Johann Le Guillerm (and his assorted assistants) it is dark and moody, almost hostile. Guillerm never speaks – he hisses like a lizard, twisting and turning his body around a myriad array of objects that he manipulates. Sometimes they co-operate, occasionally they do not and he hisses his displeasure. This is not what you would expect from a circus performance – perhaps this explains why about eight people left on opening night. However, if you discard your expectations in the lengthy queue for door then you will be in for a riveting evening.

Guillerm enters with a whip to the sound of roaring lions and his huge clanking suit of armour shoes. The audience sits on two sides of the stage in a miniature version of a big top tent. The stage is surrounded by a net and is set with four tin buckets of varying size. Guillerm assumes the role of lion tamer – but his “lions” turn out to be rolls of carpet that take on shapes when hit with the whip. The show centres on frustrating the expectations of the audience – Guillerm and his crew will spend a long time setting up what looks like an elaborate trick only to do something entirely unexpected, but no less interesting. Natural elements feature largely in the performance, particularly fire and wood. There aren’t really any smoke and mirrors involved – hence the tricks, which take immense concentration on the part of Guillerm, take some time in the execution. There are occasional moments of humour too, breaking up the intensity that characterises the rest of the show.

I was fascinated by the technical elements of the show – they are incredibly precise and the lights and sound equipment mirror the surreal, carnivalesque elements of the performance. Particularly intriguing were the lights which extended from a concertina like fixture and were manipulated like a marionette by a man who climbed a pole.

Perhaps the people who left on opening night were after more light hearted fare after Friday night drinks. Cirque Ici’s Secret would have disappointed them. However, for those prepared to be a little more open-minded it is a dark challenge to conventional expectations and thrilling to watch a man use little more than his strength and concentration to manipulate objects to his will.

Originally published in The Lumière Reader.


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A different kind of master for the ring

Review by Ann Hunt 25th Feb 2008

When you see Cirque Ici – and you must – be prepared to leave all your expectations of what a circus should be, at the door. If you do, you will enter a realm of magic hitherto unknown, and you will be amazed once again, at the wonder of the world and its beings.

Johann Le Guillerm is the director, sorcerer, ringmaster and designer of Cirque Ici and a wonder he truly is. Looking like a dead ringer of Iggy Pop with his long stringy braids and attenuated, muscular body, he moves with a dancer’s grace and the controlled dynamism of an acrobat.  [More]


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Feral alchemist commands total respect

Review by Thomas LaHood 24th Feb 2008

A night in Johann Le Guillerm’s tent makes a spectacular beginning to the International Festival.  I love the atmosphere that a big top provides, the rough wooden seating, the faces of the audience in the round, the guy ropes dangling above and the proximity to the fresh air of night just on the other side of the canvas.  Le Guillerm’s circus has all of this classical appeal, but infuses it with a totally unique and peculiar flavour.

This is a highly technical show, exposing the bare mechanics of circus raw and unalloyed.  It’s a far remove from the face paint and sequins of Cirque De Soleil or the velvet drapery we saw last year in Aurelia’s Oratorio.  This is about man and material, and every element is at once rough and beautiful, from the stacking tin pails that lie on stage at the show’s beginning to the pointy, articulated metal shoes that Le Guillerm wears.

To explain the acts themselves would detract from their magnificence, suffice it to say that the performance amalgamates physics and theatrics to breathtaking effect.  Every object is given life – even the spotlights that hang from the ceiling, concertinaed like old camera boxes, and operated from the side of the stage by strings like marionettes.

Secret is essentially a one-man show, with Le Guillerm playing a sort of feral alchemist, a tortured genius alone in his menagerie of self-created beasts and contraptions.  The character is repellent at first, as all eccentrics tend to be, but as the show progresses we see many sides to him: the poetic, the meditative, the industrious. 

There is an intensely personal quality to the whole design of the show.  Le Guillerm seems to have an intimacy with the stage that is almost supernatural, knowing just where to spin a bucket so that it will circumvent the stage perfectly, or just where to stand so that a moving sculpture will pass directly over his head. 

Variations in tone give the show a very rich texture.  Some acts are incredibly physical, such as the finale which sees the live construction of an immense free-standing spiral scaffold; others are almost purely poetic, such as a brief routine with a paper plane. 

Some contraptions are created right before our eyes, some are great mediaeval looking things wheeled onto stage.  And while some routines develop out of traditional circus arts, such as sword-swallowing, others are totally original and outlandish, defying simple explanation.

Le Guillerm’s distaste for live animal circus informs much of the show’s theme and feel.  There is a safety net around the stage for the first act, and when Le Guillerm shuffles on stage, glaring out from his tattered robes, he seems like a caged animal himself.  

Guillerm barks his orders to the crew, as well as his objects and machines, with exasperated exhalations and grunts.  Growls, roars and cacophonous clatterings precede the entrance of many of Le Guillerm’s creations, which range in temperament from the reasonable tame furry cylinders of the opening act to a downright dangerous bristling bronco that, though made entirely of metal, nonetheless emanates an unnervingly live, seething energy.

Le Guillerm is assisted from offstage by a group of technicians – grease-monkeys with mohawks and boiler suits, looking like engineers from the dystopian future of The Matrix.  These assistants not only wrangle the ‘beasts’, but also operate the lights and the real-time soundscape that accompanies the action.  This is done so fluently that it’s easy to forget that it’s happening live.  Many of the acts require long and intricate set-ups, but the whole enterprise glides along like a well-oiled (if idiosyncratic) machine.

Despite the subtle moments and tonal shifts, the show reverberates throughout with a barely contained brute force.  Le Guillerm’s vision is uncompromisingly masculine and visceral, it is tough and crude.  On opening night there were a few walkouts, though I suspect this was due to the muggy heat in combination with the hard wooden seating and possibly one too many pre-show drinks.  "Everything which is different is circus," says Le Guillerm, and this is a brilliant example of a show that stands far outside of convention yet commands total respect. 


Michael Wray March 9th, 2008

In mood and tone, the show succeeds. Guillerm looks and acts like the bastard love-child of Iggy Pop.... which is a good thing. Most of the various acts were indeed impressive, but it didn't feel worth the time invested. The pace of the show is painfully slow. I appreciate that in order to establish the credibility of each act, it is necessary for us to see each one built out of its raw materials. But that takes a long, long time. The book trick, for example, gave a prime example. Guillerm places a mat on the floor and then waits for it to unroll itself. It took about 5 minutes. That is a long time to be watching a stationary Guillerm watching the mat. Five minutes of pure inactivity... the audience were feeling very restless.... someone please unroll that mat for the man, so we can get on with it please! Then we watched him stack the books. 61 of them. I counted them. Three times. Just for something to do. It was unfortunate that this was the one trick that did not work. One of the book piles collapsed. When he started to collect the books up and stack them again, I was worried we'd start again, but he called it quits and moved onto the next trick. Also, the painfully slow process applies to leaving after the show. When we left the main tent, we weren't allowed to exit via the main path. There were barriers that could simply be pulled to one side, but ushers were there to prevent it. Instead, the crowd had to go through the foyer tent - with huge bottle-necks around the entrance and the exit making it an angry experience for people trying to get away.

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