Sunday, May 22, 2022

Fringe Review: La Nuit du Vagabond is a Worthwhile and Whimsical Adventure

La Nuit du Vagabond
La Nuit du Vagabond

Who: Hamilton Aerial Group
What: La Nuit du Vagabond
Where: The Cotton Factory (270 Sherman Avenue North)
When:  July 18-19 at 9:00pm, July 20-21 at 3:30pm (as part of the Hamilton Fringe Festival)

La Nuit du Vagabond is an encore presentation of the Hamilton Aerial Group’s performance at this year’s Winterfest. A few minor modifications have been made, but even if you have seen the performance before (or any HAG performance previously), La Nuit du Vagabond is still well worth attending. The show perfectly encapsulates the spirit of the Fringe Festival’s “Bring Your Own Venue” concept; The Aerial Group requires a specific amount of space, ceiling clearance and rigging in order to execute their performance, and The Cotton Factory is one of (if not the only) venue in the city that could safely accommodate their needs.

Hamilton Aerial Group’s mission is to make the circus arts accessible to the community. In La Nuit du Vagabond, they succeed in this mission. Each performer is given the chance to demonstrate their strengths and the audience is left in awe of the body-bending and gravity defying feats of wonderment that can only come from trained circus artists.

The narrative created by the group is simple in its concept, but complex in its execution. La Nuit du Vagabond is the story of a group of beings who are displaced from their homeland and searching for a better place. This manifests itself in a variety of ways as this concept is interpreted through aerial acts, stilt walking, other circus arts and modern dance. Like any circus, costumes are a key component to the performance, and designer Tanis MacArthur‘s brightly-coloured creations paired with the movement of the (sometimes) larger than life and (always) talented artists invokes a surreal, dream-like state for the audience. A special kudos to Melanie Skene, who created the large masks worn at the beginning and end of the production; watching the movement by the artists contained within these structures carefully balanced the line between nightmare and dream and Melanie’s creations are works of art in themselves.

When initially starting to create long-form productions, the Hamilton Aerial Group performed cabaret-style, with shorter musical and circus acts, but eventually evolved to a more narrative structure. While this shift was the right one for the group, as it allowed greater fluidity between performers and pieces, the story that they created for La Nuit du Vagabond seemed restrictive. There was an intense focus on good vs. evil which seemed a little too obvious at times; it would be great to see the group take an even broader approach to their theme and allow them a greater creative license in their storytelling. The artists are clearly skilled at weaving their stories together- it would be great to see what they can do with a more abstract narrative.

The performers work in so many different levels and dimensions for La Nuit du Vagabond; there is always much to see and someone to watch. However, for much of the performance, there was a clear “front” to their stage, and some effects were lost when aspects of the performance did not face the direction of all audience members. The Cotton Factory poses a number of challenges to this- there are literally beams from floor to ceiling throughout the room that would pose sightline challenges regardless of the production. Although it would take a lot of effort and reworking elements of their performance, it would be incredible to see the Hamilton Aerial Group eventually structure work so that there is no specific front direction to their stage- just as one can watch an aerial performance from multiple angles, the movement on the floor could be choreographed for multiple viewing angles as well.

Ultimately, none of this detracted from the overall work created by the Hamilton Aerial Group in La Nuit du Vagabond. The group is growing increasingly talented from year to year, and it is a worthwhile, whimsical adventure to join them for any evening of performance.

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