You just might want to consult your doctor before seeing Le Grand C. Side effects include shortness of breath, rapid heartbeat, raised eyebrows and a jaw that will hang so far open that you’ll be picking it up off the ground.
The 17 acrobats of the French performance group Compagnie XY took to the stage of Memminger Auditorium Friday night for a display of human strength, balance and agility so awesome that you’ll find yourself feeling guilty that you skipped the gym that morning.
Memminger’s lofty ceilings proved vital, as the performers routinely situate themselves three to four performers high. They used their appendages interchangeably as they climbed one another, as if they’re blissfully unaware that feet are meant for standing and hands for catching and holding.
Calves, shoulders, hips, heads and hands all function as places to stand, though “standing” doesn’t always mean they’re on their feet.
Teamwork is key; Any acrobats not actively performing a stunt stood by offering support in the event of a fall, though it’s hard to tell if a trick doesn’t go according to plan as many of them come within inches of apparent doom to begin with.
The tension was tangible as the acrobats ascended. It was clear, through gasps and scattered claps, that the audience wanted desperately to erupt into applause, but the balance seemed so delicate, it seemed best not to disrupt it.
The six women in the group are mesmerizing as they leap and are launched. They dive with the grace and fluidity of dolphins, but somehow land without a splash each time. They dance on shoulders with more grace than many have when firmly planted on the ground.
But the women are more than dainty as they lift one another, as well as much larger men, atop their shoulders and into the air. And the men, though taller and stockier, are nearly as light on their feet, and ascend one another with little trouble.
The set is minimalistic, but it works. The barren, black stage contains only a roughly 3-foot-tall cylinder atop which the acrobats occasionally balance. The lighting, designed by Vincent Millet and Jeremie Cuseniers, is dim, but highlights every curve and indentation of the acrobats’ trained muscles.
The dramatic lighting also accents the remarkably pedestrian costumes — some men perform in colored polos with suspenders, designed by Marie-Cecile Viault and Geraldine Guilbaud.
Unlike the audience members, the performers’ faces show neither fear nor focus, not shock or satisfaction — only an occasional coy eyebrow raised. For the audience, the show is a feast for the eyes filled with jolts to the heart, but for the members of Compagnie XY, it’s just another day on the job.
Melanie Deziel is a Goldring Arts Journalist from Syracuse University.