— Production photo
Leo is a kind of one-man Cirque du Soleil, done trompe l’oeil style à la Robert Lepage. It’s a wordless 75 minutes of clever athleticism and video design, eliciting gasps of pleasure, giggles, and sometimes cheers from appreciative audiences.
Performed by Tobias Wegner from the Berlin-based company Circle of Eleven, and directed by Montreal’s Daniel Brière, Leo is presented to us simultaneously live and on video. Wegner performs in what is essentially a cutaway cube, lying on the floor with his feet against a wall and a light bulb sticking out horizontally from the middle of the wall behind his head. Beside that set is a large white screen on which Wegner is projected, rotated 90 degrees clockwise. So it looks as if he’s standing on a floor, leaning against a wall, with a light bulb over his head.
This is essentially the same trick Lepage performs for a few minutes at the end of The Far Side of the Moon. All of Leo consists of variations on this theme. As Wegner’s character (Leo?) explores the space, he at first seems frustrated by it, even imprisoned, reminiscent of Beckett’s Act Without Words. But soon he becomes more playful, vaguely Chaplinesque. He discovers he can float up or along the wall (i.e., by scooting himself around the floor). He plays apparent tricks with gravity—with his tie, his hat, a bottle of water he retrieves from a suitcase.
The suitcase is also the source of music of various styles and tempos. At one point he takes a saxophone from it and accompanies his own movements up and down and along the wall. At another point he performs a ballet to the suitcase’s music.
Just when you begin to think, “Okay, there are only so many physical variations of this gag he can perform,” he draws a whole room with chalk on one of his walls: a chair (on which he “sits”), table, cat, fish bowl. Then, magically, the chalk drawing becomes animated on the video screen: the cat meows, the fish swims, the bowl spills, and the “room” fills with video-water in which Wegner swims. It’s an amazing dreamlike effect. Kudos to video designer Heiko Kalmbach and animator Ingo Panke.
The show climaxes with a lengthy sequence of acrobatics performed at high tempo to rock music, with video ghosting effects that double and sometimes triple Wegner’s image. It did start to feel repetitious to me towards the end, but I found myself in awe of Wegner’s physical stamina: like watching someone do a long sprint at the end of a marathon.
One of the most interesting elements of the show is the question of where you should look: at the performing actor, or at his video image. The image is more entertaining but you’ll want to see what the actor is actually doing to create the effect. You’ll find yourself splitting your focus, wishing you had an extra pair of eyes to be able to watch both sides of the stage at once.