‘Pedal Punk’ is a balance between mechanical and acrobatic
December 23, 2014
Cirque Mechanics last performed at the Eccles Center in the spring of 2013. The company presented "Birdhouse Factory," which was a wild mechanical and acrobatic celebration set in the 1930s.
When Cirque Mechanics returns to the Eccles Center on Dec. 30, it will bring another mechanical/human show, "Pedal Punk," said Chris Lashua, the company’s founder and creative director.
"This is how is the most complete realization of the idea of mixing mechanical apparatus and circus," Lashua said during an interview with The Park Record. "Unlike ‘Birdhouse Factory,’ ‘Pedal Punk’ doesn’t rely so much on a time-period setting, but is more reliant on being set in a wacky, mechanical bike shop."
The story is centered on a mechanic and his assistant in a little steam punk bike shop, Lashua explained.
"The other artists in the company become his patrons and their interactions become the performance pieces," he said. "That’s the construct of the show."
The similarities between "Pedal Punk" and "Birdhouse Factory" revolve around the circus element in Cirque Mechanics.
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"We include all the acrobatic vocabulary of gymnastics, juggling and contortion," Lashua explained. "We have trampolines and comedy and things like that and then mix it into this bike-shop environment."
One of the performance’s centerpieces is a 22-foot-tall, pedal-driven performance platform called the gantry bike.
"It weighs 6,000 pounds and there are trampolines and platforms on it," Lashua said. "There are two people who can essentially pedal this thing around the stage and up to six artists can perform on it."
The show also includes a bicycle that climbs walls.
"When you pedal it, if moves up and down on trusses," Lashua said. "It has a cable that can also lower and lift and aerialist.
"There are a lots of contraptions that are pedal driven, which is fun for us," he said. "And it’s easy to identify the relationship between the mechanical and human, which is exciting for us."
Lashua’s background in BMX riding helped him conceive Cirque Mechanics.
"We actually do have a BMX act in the show, so it’s been really cool to mix all of the experiences as a circus company and bring back some of the experiences I’ve had during my youth as a BMX competitor," he said. "I mean that’s how I got into all of this in the first place. It’s been a fun experience."
The bicycle element is key in all of Cirque Mechanic performances.
"There is a familiarity with them that people understand," Lashua said. "They also understand how difficult learning how to ride a bicycle was and if someone does crazy, outrageous tricks on a bike, it makes things more interesting."
The secret is taking the stunts to a different level by way of the various contraptions.
"The devices in the shows are evolutionary," Lashua said. "You start one that can do a certain thing and then think of different ways you can use it.
"For example, during ‘Birdhouse Factory,’ we had a device called a spin cycle, which was essentially an eight-foot round table you drive around the stage pedaled by unicycles," he said. "That was a fun device, and was very successful to us. We looked at what it did and then thought if we could build two of them and connect them with an archway that can be driven around the stage. And that’s how we came up with the gantry bike."
Like all creative endeavors, "Pedal Punk" is the result of much trial and error.
"When something we try doesn’t work we simply won’t do them again, but we do want people to know that these were things we wanted to try and mechanize them," Lashua said. "In doing that, we hopefully find ways to create a device or image that changes our perception, but still allows the audience to recognize the acrobatics involved in it."
Even with all these gravity-defying feats, the bottom line of any performance is safety.
"We have a trampoline that attaches to the gantry bike that allows people to bounce on their backs and run up a truss," Lashua said. "Before we took this on the road, we had to evaluate how small we could make the trampoline before someone falls off and gets hurt. Then we had to think how big it needed to be to be visually spectacular.
"Again, these all evolve from one show to the next and we learn about what is safe and what risks are acceptable," he said. "We want to create something great, but we don’t want to hurt anyone. So we are careful with that and over time we get better at it."
The Park City Institute will present Cirque Mechanics’ "Pedal Punk" at the Eccles Center for the Performing Arts, 1750 Kearns Blvd., on Tuesday, Dec. 30, at 7:30 p.m. Tickets range from $20 to $69 and are available by calling 435-655-3114 or by visiting http://www.ecclescenter.org .
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