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One day a young baron decided he had had enough of ordinary life. He got up from the dinner table, climbed up into the trees and never came down again. Italo Calvino's The Baron in the Trees describes this new existence in unaffected language that belies a deep metaphysical message. Calvino's magical realist novel may have been the inspiration for Filao, but few of his particulars are evident.
Filalo (part of the Lincoln Center 2000 Festival
Not that anyone seems to mind. And with flashy performances like these, no one asks whether they are seeing theater, dance or whatever. Welcome to noveau cirque.
Under husband and wife artistic directors Antoine Rigot and Agathe Olivier, Les Colporteurs company has offered productions that expand our ideas of what is physically possible, but with theatrical verve and plenty of laughs.
Since its premiere in 1997, Filao has delighted audiences in Europe and now for the first time also the U.S. The production is scheduled to be retired after a final outing in Venice in September.
The white tent now in Damrosch Park alongside the Metropolitan Opera encloses a tall but narrow playing space full of walkways, ladders and long ropes. Kathleen Reynolds is the first to appear. In short order the other players wrap her in a tablecloth. Once extricated, she whirls and swings in wide arcs from a handy chandelier, her red hair flowing in the breeze.
David Dimitri defiantly avoids conventional tightrope walking, choosing instead to jump or scamper above our heads. A forest of sturdy Y-shaped tree branches below wire-level under his feet is nearly the sole reminder of Calvino's baron. Earlier he balances on the edge of an oval table that the others roll slowly on its side across wooden the playing area at ground level.
Five aerialists and trapeze artists, some in 19th-century-style circus costumes, scale sturdy ropes and wavering ladders to perches high above the audience's heads. In the midst of so much fantasy, the trapeze show they offer is the equivalent of technical pyrotechnics. There is an occasional missed handhold (with only non-lethal consequences), but a gag routine just preceding involving falling off a swaying catwalk onto strategically placed shock-absorbing cushions has already turned off the pressure.
The underlying theme seems to be freedom-freedom from everything earth-bound. Over a dozen different scenes, this creation by Lazlo Hudi in collaboration with the performers challenges conventional limitations and flouts our need to feel secure. Text might have got in the way of their clear message.
Lighting is as wonderfully varied as the performances. A three-person band vaults from spot to spot under the circular tent to play instruments including steel drum, flute and xylophone. The saxophonist somehow gets to the upper reaches of the space before holding forth from a suspended wrought-iron lounge.
Unclassifiable but eminently enchanting.
Directed by Lazlo Hudi
with Kathleen Reynolds, David Dimitri, Sophie Kantorowicz, Xavier Martín, Thierry Suty, Miquel de la Rocha, Linda Peterson
Musicians: Carl Schlosser, Antonin Leymarie, Franck Jaccard
Tent hands: Jean Luc Lecorre, Laurent Graouer
Sound: Grégoire Chomel
Lighting: Fred Richard, Michael Serejnikoff
Artistic Directors: Antoine Rigot and Agathe Olivier
Composer-arranger: Carl Schlosser
Costumes: Cissou Winling
A production of Les Colporteurs
Running time: 75 minutes with no intermission
Damrosch Park Tent, Lincoln Center
Opened July 12, 2000; closes July 22
Seen July 16, 2000 and reviewed by David Lipfert July 19, 2000