Sunday, May 1, 2011

La Compagnie Transe Express at Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts

If you don't know how to describe this, you're not alone. But this is a scene from the culminating event of the ambitious 25-day Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts. Sold by the friends who enticed me to come out last night as a circus with French acrobats and pyrotechnics, what we actually got was 'Maudites Sonnants/ The Celestial Carillon,' courtesy of a troupe of Lyonnais known as La Compagnie Transe Express. Bascially, we have an over-engineered contraption (later revealed to be a chandelier) hoisted into the sky on a very tall crane. Dangling beneath the metal and wires is a gang of French minstrels with drums and bells and just 3 acrobats. The contraption expands and contracts and slowly rotates while the musicians tinkle out the creepy-clown music of a child's nightmare and the acrobats write around on swings or ropes.

All in this was the kind of opium dream spectacle of Toulouse-Letrec-era France that is kind of lost on modern audiences who have no expectation of such things. Hence my confusion when it turned out to be very un-circus. There was also a notable underwhelmingness in the crowd of 150,000 or so Philadelphians, who waited an hour while the device haltingly got off the ground in 20 minute, bell-announced intervals. This was puzzling: technical flaw or French theatrics to build up the anticipation? Either way it had the affect of riling a rile-prone audience and then under-delivering in terms of expected dynamics. Acrobats, for example, did no flying leaps and pyrotechnics turned out to be a few sparklers and kerosene torches.

Still, in terms of sheer novelty it was the most original thing I've seen in a long while and no doubt left some indelible impressions on attendant children, some of whom are still cowering in fear this morning after resultant night terrors, while others are probably plotting their emigration to Lyon to sign up with the celestial performers of La Compagnie Transe Express.

Video provided by the Inquirer since words fail.

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