Cirque Mechanics specializes in combining acrobatics and engineering to fit large stunts into smaller theater spaces.
Circus mechanics/Courtesy photo

On March 4, the Vilar Performing Arts Center once again hosted the traveling circus-theatre company Cirque Mechanics.

The idea of ​​integrating a circus into such an intimate performance space initially seems counter-intuitive, but scenes like Vilar’s are precisely what Cirque Mechanics was designed for. By combining acrobatic artistry with strategically designed sets and apparatus, the company makes it possible to perform great stunts in smaller spaces.

Cirque Mechanics was born the same way as any great engineering feat: founder and creator Chris Lashua had to solve a problem. Lashua invented the “German wheel” for Cirque du Soleil, a circular contraption resembling a wrapped ladder, which allows the acrobat inside to use the rolling motion to propel a variety of gymnastic-like stunts .



Lashua’s wife and Cirque Mechanics co-founder Aida Lashua said that while the act was popular, he felt limited in the opportunities he had to perform it due to spacing issues.

“When he went on his own, he realized that a lot of places didn’t have enough space for him to do all the rotations he wanted to do,” Aida Lashua said. “So he started thinking what can I do, what can I build, that would help me be able to play in just about any space, big or small.”



Chris Lashua designed a new machine to hold the wheel that allowed him to do as many rotations as he wanted, and the process sparked an idea that would lead to the creation of Cirque Mechanics.

“That got him thinking, why not build all kinds of machines that interact with each other and with the performer, where the performer is basically the power behind the machine,” Aida Lashua said.

This idea has now led to almost two decades of shows that combine engineering, acrobatic art and theater and have been presented on dozens of stages around the world.

birdhouse factory

“Birdhouse Factory” was Cirque Mechanics’ very first production. The show centers on a group of factory workers under the rule of a bitter boss, who spends every day making gadgets for no real purpose. One day, a bird walks into the factory and inspires the workers to give up their boring and monotonous routines and delight each other and the world by building birdhouses.

Originally staged in 2004, Aida Lashua said the company planned a 15th anniversary revival tour that began in 2019, but was canceled before it was completed due to the pandemic. The tour was later postponed to a 2021-2022 season and concluded this week on March 8 in Durango, CO.

The set design and costume design of “Birdhouse Factory” was inspired by the murals of Detroit industry by Diego Rivera.
AP Photo/Carlos Osorio/Courtesy Photo

“It happened, by chance, to be the perfect show for people to see through the pandemic, and now after the pandemic,” said Aida Lashua. “It’s about the challenges of the factory worker in the Depression era, so people had to face a lot of hardship and had to adapt. This sweet bird comes into the factory and inspires all these workers to change their way of thinking and their point of view. They come together to create something new and beautiful, and I think a lot of us have had to do that during the pandemic.

The Vilar stage has been cleverly transformed into a Depression-era factory, complete with a Ford-style assembly line, tall gears and metal scaffolding that together form a jungle gym out of space industrial. The performers were dressed in overalls, Dickies and flat caps, with the sole patron in a suit, top hat and cane. A woman clearly represented Rosie the Riveter and displayed the signature “We can do it!” muscle flex from the famous WWII poster.

Aida Lashua said the show’s set and costume designs were inspired by Diego Rivera’s Detroit industry murals of the 1930s.

The mix between man and machine that is so prevalent in factories – and can be reflected in our modern dealings with computers – takes physical form in the acts that Cirque Mechanics specializes in. Workers operate a turntable while riding unicycles, while a contortionist performs on top. A man runs inside a German wheel, which acts like a gear propelling a tethered aerial hoop performer into the sky. By combining an act with a mechanical device, it elevates the capacity of a show designed for smaller performance spaces, while also serving as a metaphor for the lived experience of industrial workers during this period in history.

Unicycles power a turntable while a contortionist dazzles.
Circus mechanics/Courtesy photo

The show’s narrative is led by two mime-like actors, the boss and one of the workers, who convey a lot of emotion and comedy through their wordless acts. Boss acrobats are tied to money and often serve as poignant metaphors in themselves, like balancing champagne glasses on a knife. In contrast, the worker brings physical and slapstick comedy and joy to the stage, easily winning the hearts of the audience and making all the children in the theater laugh.

There is a sense of redemption when the kind and cheerful worker outweighs the cruel and hostile boss, and although workers in the second half are less productive than in the first, they approach the day with a sense of independence and, above all, , pleasure. . The acts towards the end of the show involve dancing, hoops and a series of trampoline stunts, with physical comedy throughout.

“There’s so much more to our company than the circus acrobatics – which is fantastic, it’s the thrill of the circus – but on top of that there are all these other layers,” said Aida Lashua. “There is art, there is music, there is beauty and history. We hope you come away inspired and forget about what’s going on in the world for a few hours.

The acts towards the end of the show defend the joy and involve dancing, hoops and a series of trampoline stunts.
Circus mechanics/Courtesy photo

Cirque Mechanics have completed their ‘Birdhouse Factory’ revival tour, but plan to return to the Vilar with additional show offerings in the future.

“We’re excited to return to the center of Vilar because it’s very intimate, and that’s what we like,” said Aida Lashua. “We’re only 10-12 people on stage and we like to be close to the audience, we like to bring people in, and at the Vilar they can see the performer’s facial expressions and feel like they’re with us. experiencing what is happening.”

For more information about Cirque Mechanics, visit CirqueMechanics.com.

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