ArtSpoken & Reviews

Cirque Infernal mesmerises with its human feats

Peter Feldman
09/10/2018 09:34:43

Peter Feldman: Ever since I was a little boy growing up in the small town of Alberton, the circus has always intrigued and entertained me.

Each year I looked forward to these colourful performers trundling into town and pitching camp.

My late father owned a shop. He would display a circus poster in the window for which he was given free tickets. It became an annual ritual. I loved watching the feats of human endeavour and, occasionally, some of the more exotic animal acts.

Over the years I was fortunate enough to see many circuses, both here and overseas, and recall watching the famous Moscow State Circus in London in the 70s in which three rings were used simultaneously. For the first time I watched in amazement as a group of giant bears were put through their paces.

Times have changed and the world outcry against animal acts in circuses has not gone unheeded. Sadly, a famous South African circus brand, Boswell-Wilkie, which would perform in Johannesburg during the Christmas period, is no longer operating.

Which brings me to a circus of a different hue. We have already seen various versions of Cirque du Soleil on our shores, but now comes the enchanting Cirque Infernal, direct from Europe.

Inspired by such cinematic luminaries as Federico Fellini, Wim Wenders and Tim Burton, Cirque Infernal is an engaging presentation in which the physique is put squarely to the test.

Whether walking high up on a tightrope (France's Wilson Stey) without the benefit of a safety net or playing with death on highly-charged motor bikes racing inside a globe of steel, it all comes down to the human element. And that is what's so fascinating about this enterprise.

Bright and colourful, with a crew of energetic and appealing personalities, this non-stop entertainment will appeal to all ages. 

The show was created by Danny Varanne, who was of "Le Grand Cirque Adrenaline" which performed at Joburg Theatre in 2012. His speciality was the motorbike act, called The Globe of Death. This unbelievable feat, which again dominates this latest version, stunned audiences as they watched three bikers ride inside a globe of steel at speeds of up to 65km/h, all the while trying to avoid a collision.

The new show mixes the Gothic with the traditions of the circus, with muscular male performers and attractive, tattooed females in revealing costumes, performing a variety of disciplines that are, at times, jaw-dropping and others sheer poetry in motion.

Acts vary from Irina Naumenko's amazing contortions to the knife-throwing abilities of Rachel and Charlie Atlas, a husband-and-wife team, with a fascinating job. There are stunts executed on a pole to some fiery juggling. Varanell, the Queen of Darkness, manages to swallow a sword one moment and then extinguishes a flaming torch in her mouth the next.

Johann Jacob Gorius is the Rolla Bolla genius, an athletic individual who delivers an acrobat performance on rolling cylinders, while trapeze artists Celeste Bliss (USA) and François Colarusso (France/Canada), execute some striking manoeuvres together.

The artists continually test their limits and death is a constant reminder of what can happen if things go wrong. At the beginning of the performance the Figure of Death manifests and sets a challenge. Thankfully, the consummate skill and dedication of each and every one of the performers won out on the night.

Cirque Infernal is on The Mandela Stage at Joburg Theatre until September 23.

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Peter Feldman has been a journalist and arts critic for almost 50 years and served on The Star in various capacities for 35 years, ending up as a specialist writer on films, music and theatre. During that time, he travelled extensively on assignments and interviewed many international film and pop stars, both in South Africa and overseas. He also covered some of South Africa's biggest film and musical events. He was one of only two South African journalists to be invited by Steven Spielberg to the Hook film junket in LA in 1991 where he interviewed the famous director as well as Dustin Hoffman and the late Robin Williams. He attended the gala James Bond premiere in London in 1981 and did an iconic interview in a Rolls Royce with Roger Moore who played Bond. He spent a week touring England with Queen prior to their Sun City visit in 1983, interviewed a host of international stars on films sets in Hollywood and London and was the first local journalist to nail an interview with The Rolling Stones prior to their SA visit in 1995.

He is active in the freelance field and his work has appeared in a variety of South African newspapers and magazines, including He has also worked on TV and radio (ChaiFM 101.9) in his specialist capacity. Over the years Feldman has been the recipient of several awards for his contribution to music journalism and the SA record industry. He is a recent recipient of the Standard Bank Joy of Jazz award in recognition for his long-standing journalistic support for the arts. He wrote lyrics for some top artists, including Sipho Mabuse, and had a hit disco single, "Video Games," which was released in 1988. He coined the phrase “Local is Lekker.”

Related Venue:
Joburg Theatre Complex, Loveday Street Braamfontein Johannesburg Gauteng South Africa