Massachusetts Daily Collegian

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A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Cirque Mechanics: ‘Zephyr’ blows audiences away at the Bromery Center

The circus troupe transported audience to a fantastical world of winds
Image courtesy of Cirque Mechanics.

A man stands atop the “Wheel of Death.” Stagehands rush in, covering the ground below him with safety mats. The wheel rises, and the man slowly walks on the outside of the thin metal apparatus, extending his arms to keep his balance. The wheel spins faster, hurtling the man dozens of feet in the air as it rises and falls.

Looking out into the crowd with a devilish grin, the man pulls out a jump rope as the music swells and a sea of gasps swells from the audience. The man starts to jump, but after a couple of seconds, he catches the rope on his foot, stumbling as the wheel’s height peaks. The audience screams in terror, but thankfully, he recovers. He looks to the crowd again and a collective sigh of relief echoes through the theater, followed by thunderous applause.

For the seasoned performers of Las Vegas-based circus troupe Cirque Mechanics, captivating an entire audience like this isn’t new. Performing to a packed house on Thursday, Feb. 15, the circus ensemble blew audiences away with their stage show, “Zephyr,” at the Tillis Performance Hall in the Bromery Center for the Arts.

Cirque Mechanics was founded in 2004 by former Cirque du Soleil performers Chris Lashua and Aloysia Gavre. The troupe is famous for its original performance apparatuses that “showcase the relationships between the acrobatic and mechanical worlds.”

The company has five stage shows, each with custom-made machines acting as high-flying playgrounds for its talented performers. Cirque Mechanics describes their performance style as “wrapped in acrobatics, mechanical marvels and a bit of clowning around.”

This show, “Zephyr” — the title derived from Zéphuros, the Greek god of the west wind — follows Nigel, the owner of a humble flour mill powered by the wind. Nigel’s flour mill is complete with a larger-than-life windmill, which serves as the focal piece of the entire production.

In Act I, the windmill is traditional European-style, with slow-moving, cloth-covered rudders spinning in the breeze. As the show progresses, Nigel’s flour production becomes industrialized after his lowly windmill falls apart, battered by harsh rains. Come Act II, the windmill is replaced by a modern wind turbine, with smaller, more powerful blades.

Nigel’s windmill not only serves as the visual centerpiece of “Zephyr,” but also as an apparatus for Cirque Mechanics’ high-flying acrobatics. It’s a versatile machine serving several different acts, such as aerial contortion, silks and the hair-raising “Wheel of Death.”

Each circus act is set in tandem with the pacing of the central story. In between the death-defying, energetic numbers, the quieter moments of “Zephyr” allow its performers to show off their talents, like juggling pins, jumping through hoops or riding bicycles while standing.

Based on the palpable excitement throughout the theater, it’s clear that “Zephyr” is a hit with all ages, from toddlers to the elderly. “My favorite part of the show was definitely the dancer who was being flown by her hair,” Katie Lynch, a 17-year-old from Storrs, CT, said. “It was the first part of the show I saw and I was so blown away by it. It really set high standards for the rest of it.”

“I really liked the main set piece of the windmill, I thought that was very creative,” she said. “I thought all the performers were really entertaining to watch. They weren’t just acrobats doing amazing acrobatics, they were performers telling a story and making it even more engaging and entertaining.”

Lynch attended the show with her boyfriend, 17-year-old William Connolly from Mansfield Center, CT. “I really loved the traveling salesman character,” Connolly said. “He had some of the best acts and was also arguably the most villainous despite his smile. His hat throwing act was lots of fun but the best part was definitely him jumping rope on top of the wheel.”

The performance concluded with a standing ovation as each member of the circus troupe took their final bows. That is, all except for one performer, who symbolized the story’s ever-present wind, who continued to slowly walk on the inside portion of the “Wheel of Death.”

After the curtain closed, the hundreds of astounded circusgoers left Tillis Hall, keeping the fantastical world of “Zephyr” in their minds as they braved the snowy weather and the bitter-cold zephyrs in the real world outside.

Nathan Legare can be reached at [email protected].

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