nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
May 17, 2008
ijk is an inventive physical theatre work from the French troupe Compagnie 111 (CIE 111); it contains moments that are fascinating and beautiful and sometimes both, but overall it feels a little unsatisfying and, at about 50 minutes in length, inadequate.
Conceived by CIE 111 artistic director/performer Aurelien Bory as part of a trilogy of performance pieces about spatial relationships, ijk focuses on three-dimensional space, with a series of different-sized blocks as its only set pieces and an array of white balls as its main props. Much of the show is given over to what CIE 111 calls "sonic juggling"—bouncing and manipulating the balls against the blocks to create sounds that are somewhere at the intersection of music and pure percussion. These vignettes are quite lovely, especially one featuring Bory and Olivier Alenda juggling the balls against a rigged-out table-top, so that as they play what looks like a game of table tennis (albeit one with more than one ball), they play an eloquent kind of music simultaneously.
Other segments within the show rely on the circus backgrounds of Alenda and the third cast member, Anne De Buck: these include a whimsical bit where DeBuck walks across a series of cubes that are moved across the stage by Alenda and Bory, and my favorite sequence, in which Bory and Alenda take turns balancing themselves in increasingly unlikely ways inside a free-standing open door-frame-sized box. These pieces explore the ways that performers can seem to defy gravity; other concepts from mathematics and physics are demonstrated in the show in more or less subtle ways. ijk is not quite an educational show, though, and it seemed to me that one way it could increase its interest level would be to find ways to integrate the ideas its creators are exploring in a more explicit manner.
And the interest level could definitely use some bolstering. Several of the routines are apparently fairly difficult and/or still in developmental stages, and have not been perfected by the performers. They doggedly did and re-did them until they got them right. That's commendable, but in a wordless show like this one, it makes for somewhat rough going. The kids in the audience in particular seemed less engaged in ijk than in other physical theater pieces I've seen at New Victory, and I suspect this redundancy is one of the problems.
But in the end, I'm not sure that this is really a show for youngsters; it's much more a cerebral Flying Karamazov Brothers kind of event than a circus. The concentration of its three cast members as they perform feats that defy gravity and produce uncommon and surprising sounds and patterns from common objects is astonishing. I think that an audience primed for their kind of work, in a more intimate venue, could be astonished and engaged by this elegant and unusual production.