REVIEW by Willard Manus

CIRQUE ELOIZE--NOMADE is Cirque du Soleil without the pretentiousness and production overkill. The company was formed in 1993 by seven young graduates of Montreal's Circus School with the mission of performing intimate shows in theatres rather than under the big top. Cirque Eloize (pronounced El-wah) was a success from the start and has since evolved its own style, a blend of circus arts, dance and music. Its 1999 show was something of an extravaganza, but now Cirque Eloize has gone back to its small-is-beautiful roots with NOMADE, which recently played at UCLA's Royce Hall.

"Nomadism," as director Daniele Finzi Pasca (head of the Swiss troupe Teatro Sunil) observes, "is a state of mind. It's a journey through memories and dreams. As we follow the trail of our inner thoughts, we encounter vestiges of our past and indulge in wild flights of fancy. The members of Cirque Eloize are modern-day nomads. As they wander the globe, they forge new friendships, showcase their talents, and celebrate the here and now."

That pretty much sums up the narrative arc of the show, which
features 17 dazzling performers who impersonate modern gypsies traveling far and wide and entertaining each other with derring-do, songs and stories. The show's design emphasizes night time, sleeping under the stars: "memories and dreams." Costumes, sound and make-up add to the phantasmagorical qualities, but it is the music, pulsing, lilting klezmerlike riffs, that gives the show its drive and spirit.

In the end, though, what makes "alternative" circuses like ELOIZE and SOLEIL work are the individual feats of the performers and clowns. NOMADE'S stand-out acts were the contortionist Genevieve Gauthier, trapezist Suzanne Soler, clowns Bartlomiej Soroczynski and Nicholas Leresche, and the pole-climbing Stefan Wepfer, but in a way it's unfair to single them out, if only because everyone in the company is so gifted, one minute juggling and tumbling, the next tootling on a horn and singing his heart out.

NOMADE'S imaginative turns, its combination of dreaminess and joie de vivre, make it a must-see show for young and old alike.

(Cirque Eloize is touring the USA through Jan. 2003, returning to Montreal for the Highlight Festival and a tour of Quebec. In April the circus travels around Europe, finishing in London in August.)