French Acrobat Act Confounds Kimmel Security

Kimmel Center security moved in Saturday night to remove a strangely clothed man wielding an empty wine bottle in the center’s lobby.

Until they realized he was acting.

He was in fact Gilles Rhode, one of the founders of La Compagnie Transe Express (see video here)– the troupe that pivoted, gyrated and struck bells and drums Saturday night high over the intersection of Broad and Spruce Streets. The act from France was hired by the Kimmel as the grand finale to the Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts.

Rhode was not physically restrained, according to PIFA director J. Edward Cambron, but “the guard was trying to physically contain the situation…the guard was beginning to physically move up to him and deal with him.”

A crowd, perhaps in the tens of thousands, amassed near the intersection for what was supposed to be a 7:30 performance. When the start was delayed, Cambron started to walk around to try to determine why. What he found in the lobby was Rhode with the Kimmel guard “in the process of containing him, not realizing he was one of the performers.”

Part of La Compagnie Transe Express’ shtick is to move through the crowd before a performance, leading audience to the staging area. The 45-minute delay to Saturday’s show – which had viewers chanting “start the show, start the show…” at one point – was not from Rhode’s detention, which Cambron said lasted just a short time, but the fact that the performers were thwarted by thick crowds, Cambron said.

They weren’t the only ones thwarted. Philadelphia Orchestra listeners arriving for the orchestra’s 8 p.m. Stravinsky concert pushed their way to Broad Street from the east-west streets, only to find Broad impassable.

So many listeners were delayed that the audience was larger after intermission than before, one attendee said.

The clash of events created “total gridlock and a really unsafe situation. There were little old ladies being pushed and shoved around by people of all ages. There was no walkway cleared,” said orchestra patron Elaine Wilner. “There was just an erratic line of people trying to move south as many just stopped to take their place to see the acrobats. It took me 15 minutes to get from in front of the Academy to across Spruce Street.”

Cambron said the Kimmel didn’t know what to expect in terms of crowd size when it planned the event, but that “it got to the point where it felt like the parade the Phillies had on Broad Street.”

As for the incident between Rhode and Kimmel security, Cambron said the guards had not been informed that Rhode, dressed for the part, would be in the Kimmel lobby. “The guard was doing exactly what he was supposed to be doing.”

It probably didn’t help that Rhode could not communicate with the guard; the Frenchman speaks little English.

“It lasted only a moment,” said Cambron. “I think I said, ‘Stop! Stop! He's an actor in the show.’”