Yann Ecauvre hopes “Exit” will be the launch of a big story between Cirque Inextremiste and the United States.
The artistic director of the French company will soon be in Rochester to prepare for performances at the Rochester Fringe Festival–serving as its centerpiece at Parcel 5. The free event marks the U.S. debut of “Exit.”
The Fringe begins its 12th season today with more than 500 performances across 31 venues, drawing thousands to the city’s center. Performers across the board and from around the globe will be in Rochester from Sept. 12-23.
Wild aerial feats are expected to enthrall audiences in Cirque Inextremiste’s “Exit.” A group of acrobats commandeer and launch a hot air balloon. In addition to the acrobatic flair, a grand piano will be suspended from the balloon.
The performance touches on a highly prevalent societal challenge: mental illness. “Exit,” poignantly and with humor, takes the audience into the minds of those experiencing mental health issues.
The idea for the show began with the hot air balloon. Ecauvre bought the balloon in 2015 to turn it into a circus apparatus, Fringe organizers say. The same year, the show’s team began to work with medical personnel at Blain Psychiatric Hospital near Nantes in France, mulling ideas on using art as a form of healing. Artists, patients and health care professionals brainstormed in a circus tent. Then, the Cirque Inextremiste cast began six days of balance workshops with patients and caregivers, living with them and participating in daily routines.
Cirque Inextremiste members taught patients how to maintain their balance in
precarious situations—in particular, on boards balanced on gas cylinders.
“Some patients surpassed themselves,” says Ecauvre, “and they have been able to achieve balances that they thought were impossible.”
The workshops culminated in a performance by the patients and attended by their families.
“We created a common adventure, where the one who knows is no longer necessarily the caregiver—nurse, psychiatrist, doctor—(to achieve) a moment of self-transcendence where a transformation of one’s own image and relationships with others takes shape,” says Ecauvre.
It also laid the plot line for “Exit.” Straitjackets were integrated into the aerial arts, a metaphor for medications and confinement of mental health patients. The show takes the audience through a journey of freedom as the cast sheds these jackets and launches the balloon.
In addition to “Exit,” other intriguing performances at the Fringe include “Corazón.” Another first for the fest, Circocolombia brings rap and Latin music with stunts and choreography. A modern circus company, Circocolombia features graduates of the National School of Circo Para Todos (“Circus for All”) in Colombia. The group has performed at Edinburgh Fringe and at London and Chicago venues.
A must-see free event at the Fringe and a nod to Rochester’s unsung heroes is a 3-D video art installation, “Craig Walsh: Monuments.” The outdoor video projection event runs 8-10 p.m. on each night of the festival.
Fringe asked the community to nominate people in Greater Rochester who deserve recognition and might never rise to public consciousness, officials say. The community nominated individuals and a task force reviewed nominations and named six honorees for 2023 and 2024. Their names are:
■ Liza Robbins Theuman (2023): A champion for people in Rochester who experience food insecurity on a daily basis.
■ Ronnie Reitter (2023): A Seneca/Haudenosaunee storyteller, as well as a cornhusk artist, a traditional beader, and a seamstress, creating one-of-a-kind ribbon shirts, ribbon skirts and shawls.
■ Patricia McKinney (2023): A parent liaison for Francis Parker School No. 23 who forms a bond with every student and their parents, often going the extra mile.
■ Ann Culbreth (2024): A community garden creator–a total of 59 plots on Hamilton and Cypress streets–enabling residents to grow their own fruit and vegetables, forging a deeper sense of community.
■ Kristin “Kat” Sweeney (2024): A supporter of the LGBTQ+ community and co-founder of Rochester LGBTQ+ Together who works to dismantle institutional discrimination around gender identity, sexual orientation, race, disability, marital and health status.
■ Bruce Schaubroeck (2024): Co-founder and co-owner of the House of Guitars who spreads the love of music among the youth and within the artist community.
The 2023 honorees’ faces will be projected on the trees at Third Presbyterian Church, transforming them into sculptural monuments. A standing display at the site will provide a short biography of each honoree and their profession, volunteer work, or other reasons they were selected for this installation, officials say.
The Australian artist, Walsh, customizes the project for each community, in an answer to the question, “What does it mean to honor someone with a monument … and who should be honored in such a public way?”
Smriti Jacob is Rochester Beacon managing editor. The Beacon welcomes comments and letters from readers who adhere to our comment policy including use of their full, real name. Submissions to the Letters page should be sent to [email protected].