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Sarah Tomlinson

Chaplin’s Granddaughter Keeps it Surreal

Aurélia Thierrée likes to say that her mother gave life to everything in “Aurélia’s Oratorio,” including Aurélia herself, which bodes well for audiences at the La Jolla Playhouse in La Jolla, California, where the show is currently being staged. Thierrée’s mother, Victoria Thierrée Chaplin — renowned theatrical innovator and daughter of cinematic icon Charlie Chaplin — knows her way around a circus-inspired performance piece.

“Oratorio,” a spirited, often moving 70-minute series of surrealistic vignettes, features an elegant Thierrée, in whose performance one might detect traces of Chaplin’s trademark wide-eyed whimsy — though in an interview with ARTINFO, Thierrée was quick to note that her mother was careful not to directly reference Chaplin while creating the piece. “My mother was as influenced by so many other things,” Thierrée says. “Out of respect, it was something that we consciously tried not to get too close to, because it’s impossible.”

Thierrée, who has been performing her whole life, started out as part of Le Cirque Imaginaire and Le Cirque Invisible, both movements that were part of the influential and idiosyncratic phenomenon known as cirque nouveau (widely credited as the primary source of inspiration behind Cirque du Soleil) created by her mother and father, the French movie star Jean Baptiste Thierrée. But if not directly referenced, Thierrée’s famous legacy and closeness to her family, specifically to her mother, permeates throughout her performance in “Oratorio.”

“I’ve worked with [my mother] ever since I was born, in a sense, so it doesn’t feel like work,” Thierrée says. “Suddenly there’s a subject that grips us both and so we go for it, and it’s exhilarating.” Thierrée notes that she and her mother approach their creations with a shared reverence for the wide open world of possibility where imaginative expression and live theater meet. The audience, then, is given an experience for which there is no easy explanation, which suits Thierrée just fine: “I really like that we don’t fit into any category, and that it’s not necessarily explainable.”

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