Originally written for Exeunt
There is an air of Cirque du Soleil about La Meute, despite the (literally) stripped down nature of the performance in comparison. Perhaps it is the French sense of humour; the joy in irreverence, the embracing of naïve silliness that rings familiar. In setting out to emulate the wolf pack of their name by performing largely with the aid of non-verbal cues, Compagnie La Meute have created an oddly spellbinding experience that is not quite circus, or comedy, or physical theatre.
Clad only in towels (there really is nothing underneath!), the six graduates of the National Circus School of Rosny-Sous-Bois leap, gambol and teeter their way around what looks like a makeshift imitation of a WWII training barracks; pushing not only the limits of audience expectation but the traditional boundaries of circus performance. Any act based on extremes of physical performance or featuring an element of danger contains an implicit understanding that what you are currently watching is incredible, not only in and of itself as a physical achievement but on the basis that it might well fail and that failure is a bodily consequence and not merely a matter of artistic merit or performance credentials.
La Meute is, interestingly, almost entirely predicated on the idea that failure is not only possible but likely, imminent and painful. The company dart teasingly in front of and under the French Swing, construct an elaborate human version of Mousetrap and, in one slightly breathless scenario, a performer leaps quite extravagantly from one to another of his fellows by balancing only on a rather delicate part of their male anatomy cushioned in this case only barely by a wadding of towel.
La Meute is circus in that you will see bodies fly through the air, you will laugh and you will gasp, but it challenges in its relationship with the body; here unabashedly on display rather than barely clad in lycra as we are used to. In exploring and exploiting the fallibility of the corps, Compagnie La Meute take ownership of the right to fail and turn it into a tool with which to tease, delight and puzzle the audience. Though their harmony and skill is unquestionable after seeing them for a few moments on stage, their movements as fluid and natural as familiar dance partners, they ham up their supposed ineptitude at every possible turn, convincing the crowd time and time again through orchestrated falls that they really are incapable of attempting whatever comes next.
While interesting as a conceit, as a feature of performance this becomes somewhat staid after a little while and, though enjoyable, La Meute has a little overstayed its welcome by the time 70 minutes are up. Clearly a very coherent and talented company, it would have been exciting to see them grow past this humour and push towards some more complex work towards the end of the performance. However, punctuated by almost tribal music and vocals, it remains unique and enjoyable, with a flash finale that those with good night vision are unlikely to forget in a hurry.