Photos by Milan Loiacono
The stage in Smothers Theatre brightened out of the shadows, as a bike shop, myriad of performers in punk attire and a collection of giant wheels revealed themselves to the audience of students, faculty and Malibu residents Friday, Jan. 13 at 7:30 p.m.
“Cirque Mechanics: Pedal Punk” performed at Seaver College with hopes of depicting the connection between man and machine. The Cirque Mechanics team is made up of 14 traveling performers, led by Creative Director and Founder Chris Lashua.
Lashua shared that the idea behind Cirque Mechanics at its founding was an innate desire to depict reality, and show machines, circus and storytelling in a place that’s not a fantasy world.
“A lot of new circuses are very kind of mystical, and there’s a lot of fantasy and smoke, and dreamy kind of atmospheres. And we were actually interested in doing a much more human circus show set in a real time in a real place,” Lashua said.
The two-hour performance included acrobatics, BMX tricks, a giant trampoline and much more that took an interesting stance against the normalcy that average circus shows would traditionally contain.
“The show really demonstrated the athleticism of the performers and really impressed me, which made it that much more exciting to watch,” junior Elizabeth Ford said.
Originally a competitive trick BMX cyclist, Lashua was working as a freelance art director at an ad agency in 1992 after graduating from Boston University with a bachelor’s degree in Mass Communications when he was offered an opportunity to go to a festival in China to represent a bicycle company and perform his BMX act. While in China, he met the founder of Cirque du Soleil and was invited to join what Lashua called a “new circus” — one without animals with more emphasis on lighting and costume design, which he said hooked him.
Lashua began performing his BMX bike routines at a local level when he was about 13, in small-scale community events and shows. He coined it as a “cool summer job” that enabled him to meet new people, travel and gain recognition as a BMX cyclist that earned him sponsors from national bicycle companies.
“But those were different kinds of performances,” Lashua said. “Those shows were shows in a parking lot for a bicycle shop, or in an exhibit hall for a trade show. They weren’t onstage, so it wasn’t until I saw the work that Cirque du Soleil was doing that I was really excited to actually try to do the bicycle thing onstage.”
The novelty of Cirque du Soleil and all of the different facets of it that came together to create something special is what Lashua noted as the most intriguing part of it for him.
“The notion that you could take an act or skill — a gymnastic skill, or academic skill or bicycle skill — and actually combine that with theater, dance, choreography and lighting to make something magical. That was a whole brand new idea at the time,” Lashua said.
Lashua now works together with choreographer, music director, set designer and writer of Cirque Mechanics to create his shows. He said that as a team, the Mechanics are always looking for ways to improve the show and achieve what they set out to accomplish when they began their journey.
Marketing and Publicity Manager for Lisa Wengler Center for the Arts, Chelsea Sutton said, “What you think a circus would be is not necessarily the Steam Punk craziness of Cirque Mechanics, so I think they kind of break the rules of modern circus and create something even bigger and more unique.”
Sutton shared that Cirque Mechanics is a very unique and intriguing performance to view and decipher, a testament to the effectiveness of the company’s artistic storytelling style.
“Storytelling has no limits; there are so many different ways you can tell a story … Stories can be very personal and still be very spectacular. They can have a lot of spectacle to them, but still have a lot of heart and a lot of humor,” Sutton said.
Prior to the founding, he worked at Cirque du Soleil, where he was an artist touring with a show called “Quidam” for approximately five years. In “Quidam,” Lashua said he performed an act called “German Wheel,” which was an acrobatic circus act.
Lashua began building mechanical contraptions during his time performing “German Wheel,” which is what spiked the idea for Cirque Mechanics when he left Cirque du Soleil.
He shared that he was inspired by an image he once saw of a man standing inside of a big metal wheel, and so decided to build his own, which he then used in his performances with Cirque du Soleil.
The first show performed by Cirque Mechanics was called “Birdhouse Factory,” which toured for several years. Lashua said Cirque Mechanics’ focus is on a kind of mix of acrobat and machine in hopes to show off that relationship onstage. He said that the way the cables interact with the acrobatics and machines demonstrates an interconnectedness of man and machine.
Cirque Mechanics second show was set in a gold rush town, which is a testament to Lashua’s desire to not show a dreamland, but rather a realistic atmosphere. Similarly, the recently performed “Pedal Punk” is set in a bike shop.
Lashua said that when audiences walk in and see the stage with the bicycles, the scene is already set to help set a tone for the performance.
“We’ve all been in a bike shop or most of us have, so that information is already there,” Lashua said. “When we sit down and the show starts, we already know the environment we’re in, so that gives us a kind of head start as storytellers because we’ve already provided a lot of information visually,” Lashua said.
Lashua said that the artists take ownership of the performance because everyone is involved in the creation of content. Everyone’s voice and ideas are combined in order to produce the strongest show.
He said that it’s important that audiences have an eye-opening experience of sorts regarding all the various angles and dimensions of circus that can be performed.
“I think that we’re doing a show that’s entertaining and that hopefully people will see circus presented in a new way and for those people who haven’t seen this type of show before, hopefully they will learn there are many different kinds of circus performance and they don’t all follow the same format,” Lashua said.
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