An accordion player plays softly at the back of the stage while we take our seats. One of the advantages of a slow start in a Montreal venue is the opportunity for people watching. Is it just me or is everyone in this city sallow and unhealthy looking? Almost as sallow but just as charming is the old Le National theatre on St Catherine Est. Must be one of the few theatres still in its original incarnation, looking and feeling like an old whore. The 1970s-era air conditioning unit jutting out of the wall like a canker sore adds to the effect.
The lights finally dim and a spot lands upon a lone man, blond and lumberjack looking and radiating health, who tells an affecting, unembellished tale of lost love. She was his flying partner, the woman he tossed up and caught, and their dreams flew just as high, all the way to Vegas, baby. But they crashed and burned, as all things must in Vegas, and here he is now, on this stage alone but for two other equally blond, equally lumberjacking men. Undermen all of them, the overshadowed stalwart male halves of exotic flying couples. The audience comes to see the women soar, the costumes billow, the tricks of hand and light and sleight. The men, thick, solid and faceless underneath, just hold it all up.
The three members of Undermän, former acrobats all, have created a stripped-down and touching meditation on performance, fame, love, friendship and the masculine condition. The members take their turns with individual monologues (the Rubik’s cube metaphor for love is hilarious), juggling, hoop ring acrobatics, and kettlebel juggling. While not front and centre, they retire to the back and, joined by Swedish musician Andreas Tengblad, create subtle, haunting music sounding a little like Patrick Watson or Sigur Ros.
While each individual performance is impressive, the overall effect is that of the men attempting to reassert their sense of worth; that they, too, might deserve some centre-stage attention.
This hint of poignancy plays out full force in the show’s finale segment. The three men work together, supporting each other in the juggling, the hoop, the kettlebell. Then, dropping the accoutrements, they just use each other. The physical contact – throwing, holding, twisting, balancing – is rough, solid, and extremely emotional.
Created at Cirkus Cirkor, the famed Swedish circus school, Undermän, though a direct descendent of Cirque du Soleil, is decidedly the next generation. Devoid of tricks or props, this show runs solely on vulnerabilty and raw physical power. The enthusiastic standing ovation at the end was cathartic. I think the men in the audience wept. Or, at least, I like to imagine they did.
Undermän plays at Le National to July 14th.
INFO−CIRQUE : 514−285−9175