Maravilloso! Contemporary Circus at Discovery Green
July 3 & 4
1500 McKinney St.
The Fourth of July is usually marked by brass bands and fireworks. This year, however, Discovery Green decided to celebrate Independence Day a bit differently—with a French circus troupe.
"I was joking and saying that we would just tell everybody that this is in homage to Lafayette and the French government for helping us with the Revolution," said Susanne Theis, the park’s programming director.
Three circuses will actually be on the program, headlined by the French Barolosolo Cirkus Company performing their show ile O, which has been touring for three years, mostly in Europe. Barolosolo was formed 10 years ago and helped usher in an increasingly popular form of circus—"contemporary circus," as it’s called—which is less sporty and more artistic. Think less Cirque du Soleil and more contemporary dance.
Ile O was created by and stars Mathieu Levavasseur, an impressively tall and lanky hand balancer, and William Valet, a much shorter Chinese pole acrobat. The two think of themselves primarily as musical performers and found themselves inspired by the sound of water.
"We make circus…almost 10 years ago and we wanted to change our way to make circus and to find another way to become better and use Chinese poles differently," Levavasseur said. "And so we decided to use water to change that."
The show follows two musicians who are forced to perform a concert on a stage filled with water—a nightmare brought to life for Valet’s aquaphobic character. Because Valet’s character refuses to step in water, he must depend on his Chinese poles and the help of Levavasseur.
Preceding the performance on Thursday and Friday night will be shorter works by Houston dance groups Cirque la Vie and FrenetiCore. Discovery Green’s event coordinators designed the program to appeal to a wide variety of people. Pointing to the park’s new porch deck, which is shadowed by looming live oaks, Theis said it was "fitting when you’re here to see the groups perform so that people get a taste for the international."
"Because when you dig into contemporary circus around the world, it’s incredibly popular and it is very much its own contemporary art form," Theis continued. "It’s not about the old circus, meaning quick animal acts. It’s about individual circus artistry and a new mix of storytelling with music, human body movement, and theatrical elements as well. And it’s perfect in a park where you don’t have to speak English and you can enjoy it on any level."
Cirque la Vie’s founder Reyie Nal said the company’s performance would be almost entirely non-narrative. "It is to showcase fire and strength," Nal said. "It is a very dynamic show. There is a bit of a storyline, but it is our attempt at just delivering a strong, dynamic piece." The piece is an excerpt from a full-length show, Vida, which will debut in late September. For the Discovery Green event, Cirque la Vie flew in German wheel acrobat Chloé St-Jean-Richard and contortionist Maria Pucciarelli, whose moves can only be described as literally stomach wrenching. They will be performing individual acts alongside Nal’s own hand-balancing piece.
Like Barolosolo, FrenetiCore’s show is inspired by water. The group is well known in Houston for pushing the boundaries of dance; their Discovery Green piece is partially performed in small kiddie pools, with the performers in children’s swimsuits that contrast sharply with their elegant movements.
The shows will run from 7 to 10 p.m. on July 3 and 4, and are free to the public.