Treasures of THEx : French Pirates

French Pirate Ship of Music and Colors

Hidden in a cove by the waterfall down from the Dufferin Gates next to the Bandshell and of course Better Living was anchored a  Pirate Ship Fantastical, Aquarêves direct from France  by La Compagnie Malabar . On board this Fantastical Ship were a  troupe of musicians, jugglers, tumblers, gymnasts, pogo-stick strutters extraordinaire and, of course, a mystery woman. And all for the benefit of THEx goers who happened to stroll by around 10 each evening. I made sure I did on last Friday night.

The event explodes with a guitar and siren song of music and lights as the pirates appear on deck and then swarm around the boat tumbling and pogo-stick jumping like dolphins at play, swinging and animating the vessel with their shadowed movements. But the jumpers and tumblers are not the only ones at play, as there are a bank of lights projecting fantastic colours, masks and shapes onto the all white vessel. Shades of this last Winter’s Cavalcade of Lights, when Frenchman Olivier repainted Old City Hall in a wonderous projection of ever changing, yet precisely fitted textures, hues and music too.

Magical Costumes – photo by Nicole Babin
Then a sonorous guitar riff announces the unfurling of a sail into a mystery woman dangling by white ribbons over the starboard bow. And suddenly she is twisting and shaping her shroud in an acrobatic sequence that changes from black and white to painted hues and then into hard rock diminuendo. And just as she alights, the scene changes again to magically horned head-dressed jugglers on stilts doing their prestidigitation alone and then in twos while a spike-haired mischief bounder tries to upset the showboaters.

Jugglers Extraordinaire on Stilts
But the musicians will have none of this and in the instant an aria of liquid lyrics and music has harmony restored as the stilt-walkers are now blowing bubbles to eveyone around. And I and the crowd, which has tripled in size and now fills the complete plaza, are enthralled. Now not a moment to lose because a new set of hues and sounds has our stilt-players doing acrobatics and sparring with light sticks, now jumping over them and one running up a pole pursued by our spike-haired mischief-maker. Its like a scene out of Pirates of the Caribbean just stilted towards the madcap and phantasmagorical.

LightRope Jumping
Within a blink the mood, music, and mercurial colors have changed beats again and now our stilted players are skipping to the music and jumping over a lightrope – this time Spikehair gets the the turn of things: his long hairs catch the rope. But no matter, because the crowd is ohhhing and ahhing as a shaft of fireworks hits the plaza and suddenly the ship is alight in sparklers and fire whistlers. Talk about tripping off the light fantastic.

Fireworks Fun
Even the players seem to pause to enjoy the light show; but not the musicians whose string rhythms now scream out a fast and wild beat. You know they must be up to something. And suddenly one of the troupers had a huge plastic tube out of which was blowing the froth of white soap suds filling the air. And of course the lightshow colored the suds various tints of blue yellow, green and  then orange in almost a magical way – changing the suds into orange blossoms, blue petals, and then golden daubs. Then the players pulled off their last bit of magic – and slide open the gates separating the crowd from the plaza stage. And not a few audience members were eager to frolic in the soap suds and fun … and within a minute the whole plaza was filled with soapsters – audience and dreamers playing in the suds.

Soaps on Finale – photo by Nicole Babin
Now I am sure that not everyone was thrilled – but the suds were wet, cool and harmless. However, the show was not – and in fact I heard the definitive statement from a non-soapster as I was leaving the plaza – “what a show, What A Show, WHAT A SHOW!” I could not help thinking of the Dutch company, Close Act Malaya, that came to Toronto for the 2004 Winter Festival, and put on stilt and lighted drama of no small acclaim. Our French pirates were mining the same vein but this time with a very piquant pace and sense of humor. Bravo – what a wonderful show indeed.