Wednesday, January 29, 2003

Jugglers, aerialists, contortionists, clowns and singers are among the performers who make up Cirque Éloize.

Nomads of the night

By Gary C.W. Chun

La nuit le ciel est plus grand.

At night, the sky is larger -- what were once wandering, earthbound dreams find freedom of flight and expression in the dark. It is in this setting that two clans of nomadic performers come together in a nighttime carnival of song and circus activity.


Presented by Cirque Éloize

On stage: 7:30 p.m. tomorrow through Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday
Place: Hawaii Theatre
Tickets: $15 to $35
Call: 528-0056

This is what Montreal-based Cirque Éloize brings to Honolulu through its latest creation, "Nomade." The popular French-Canadian troupe -- a more tradition-bound cousin to the showy Cirque du Soleil -- returns after performing "Excentricus" here about 2 1/2 years ago. "Nomade" is more poetic and European in feel than the earlier show. The 18-member troupe of musicians and circus performers is a versatile bunch including jugglers, aerialists, contortionists and, of course, a couple of clowns.

While the production involves much hard work and training, there's always a romantic side to the circus, no matter how sophisticated it becomes.

One Cirque Éloize performer who became caught up in the circus life is Guillaume Saladin, who does balancing acts, juggling and singing.

If it hadn't been for fateful amour, Saladin would have continued his studies in Montreal. "It was weird how I got started," he said by phone from Maui, where the troupe finished its run over the weekend. "I was 25 at the time, conducting my master's in sociology, and I met and fell in love with a German trapezist who was going to the National Circus School in the city." Saladin's athleticism as a basketball player gave him the confidence to follow his girlfriend's advice to pay the $50 fee to take a couple of classes.

That side trip to the circus school would become a full-time vocation a year-and-a-half later when he and nine other students passed auditions to join a Cirque Éloize touring group. This is his first tour of duty with the troupe, traveling far and wide, "speaking" the universal language of the circus from New York to Shanghai.

And while he's had to put a hold on his university studies, Saladin is still able to incorporate his circus skills with his sociological work among the native Inuit in northern Canada. (With a field anthropologist father, Saladin partly grew up in their culture.)

"Fifty years ago, the Inuits had no interaction at all with the rest of Canada and Western ways -- now, two generations later, their cultural identities as hunters has been lost now that they've been introduced to this new, dominant culture, and it's subsequently led to their having one of the highest suicide rates of any native culture," he said.

"Myself and three other members of the troupe have started a circus project working with Inuit youth and teens, where we help them create their own 'Arctic circus,' teaching them acrobatic and juggling skills that are more specific to their culture. They've been very receptive to our help."

One of the things that Saladin has taken to the Inuits from his circus schooling is perseverance, not to quit. "It's like juggling, which requires patience. You may drop things now and then, but you learn to pick up and try again.

"Learning circus skills helps the Inuit youth to express themselves, to use their bodies in a thoughtful and positive way."

In the meantime, Saladin and his compatriots are enjoying their downtime at the end of their current tour. "Hawaii has such a wonderful rhythm of life, very peaceful," he said. In fact, about a dozen of the circus members plan to spend an extra week here.

For now, these modern-day nomads have found a temporary home.

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