Have you ever watched a squirrel scurry across a powerline? It's paws create a path of lesser resistance, so it doesn't get shocked, but it's still impossibly high, yards and yards above the solid earth, you know it'll make it. You're also certain it will fall.
This is how it feels to watch the 22 artists/performers/daredevils on stage during the physical theater production, Il N'est Pas Encore Minuit.
The performers are different ages, races, sizes, genders. In the opening seconds of the performance, bodies are jostled in a scene of constructed chaos: A gray-haired man hoists up a younger, blonde woman; a dark-haired man drags a short-haired woman across the stage. The performers are dressed in neutral colors, in a steampunk meets suspender aesthetic — not the bright spandexed garb you'd expect from a troupe of acrobats.
Before a minute is up, there's a woman balancing, upside down, with one hand on the head of a man, his arms out in a T. Scurrying across a powerline is starting to sound like a cakewalk.
"The powerful emotion in this acrobatic show is the contrast between the fear/danger and the human awareness of the bases on the floor, always ready to catch if needed before anyone gets hurt," says performer Evertjan Mercier, noting that the flyers "go really high into the air without protection or safety net."
Human bases or no, that's a lot of trust being placed in your fellow man. It's possible, says Mercier, because the company "works as a real collective" while also championing the individual.
"It's a slow process with a lot of communication traps," says Mercier. "It's vital that we have meetings almost every day to discuss about practical things as well as what lives inside every individual. The solidarity and compromises one can do when he/she feels that he/she matters, is amazing and gives a real strength to the whole group process."
The group moves in and out of sync for more than an hour, barely pausing to catch their breath before hurdling someone through the air to land on another's shoulders; flyers are thrown up, then flipped, landing in an embrace with another person on the ground. There's an ungendered energy to the whole thing — men and women are at once both virile and fragile, blurring the lines between who is who, what is what. The only salient component, at least to the viewer, is the risk involved, the thrill, the total defiance of what we think the human body is capable of.
"For us they [the moves] are risky but we bring the risks back to the minimum, it's done step by step and with a lot of practice ... it's simply something we like to do. Acrobatics is our passion and so in presenting what we like, I'm convinced it helps to spread a feeling of pleasure within the audience," says Mercier.
The practice component is no joke. Mercier details their exhausting schedule: "In a normal show day we arrive in the theater to warm up individually for 1 hour 30 minutes. We continue with training the tricks for the show and work on some details, that takes about 2 hours, 30 minutes. After the break we have time to eat and rest and we come back to warm up again and get ready for the show that will be 1 hour 30 minutes. Next show time!"
The audience may experience feelings of exhaustion and exhilaration simultaneously while watching Compagnie XY's performance. It feels like a race against time — how many tricks can they do before the show is over? This makes sense, given the French title translates to "It's not yet midnight." Mercier says that as acrobats, the performers "use our body in space and time to make the audience see and feel what we give them." There's fear that they'll fall, fear that time will run out. But there's also hope. Hope that they'll land, that there's just enough time.