Out There 2014 Allege: Why yes, that is a glass of water on my neck

Clement Layes in <i>Allege.</i>

Clement Layes in Allege.

I've seen plenty of death-defying acrobatic stunts over the years -- usually accompanied by awful, louder-than-bombs music thanks to Cirque du Soleil -- but Clement Layes's simple bit of balance (as part of the Berlin-based Public in Private company) enthralled Thursday night at the latest work in Walker Art Center's 2014 Out There festival.

Layes's work, Allege, is a short work that -- in the artist's mind at least -- delves deep into the philosophical underpinnings of our existence.

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[jump] Simply put, Layes goes through a series of setups throughout the piece, all the while balancing a glass of water somewhere on his head. He arrives on the bare stage with it on the nape of his neck, which means the artist is hunched over like a depressed Charles Schulz-like character in the opening minutes.

Then he moves it, but the circus and clown artist isn't going to do something as simple as grabbing it with his hand and moving it to a new position. Instead, using subtle shifts in his head and body position, Layes slowly moves the glass from the nape of his neck to the top of his curly mop of hair. 

After a bit of being able to stand up straight, Layes then moves it again. This time, he slowly moves it down to one of his ears, where it remains for the rest of the performance part of the show, even when his head is hidden in a bucket.

All the while, the artist silently sets and resets scenes on the stage that involve bottles of water, various glasses like the one on his head, and a small potted plant. These aren't slick machines either. There's plenty of spilled water everywhere, and a towel for soaking it up.

Layes breaks the performance down into two parts. After completing the balancing act in the first half (using bits of David Byrne's "Like Humans Do" as punctuation), he spends the second segment explaining what it all means. This could easily slip into a dull lecture, but our creator has a light touch that makes the explanations interesting -- and it is clear that they are just as much a part of the balancing act that makes up the first part of the show.


8 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Walker Art Center
1750 Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis
For tickets and more information, call 612.375.7600 or visit online.