The Passing Spectacle Vol. VII, No. 5


The New Kelly Miller Goes Its Own Way

So what exactly does an animal-free circus look and feel like?  There are two diametrically opposed ways anyone contemplating such a venture may go.  The first is the approach firmly established in the minds of upscale circus-goers by Cirque du Soleil:  spectacle on two levels, the physical production and the skill level of the performers.  The other approach aimed mainly at a less sophisticated audience in less populous settings is a bit of a throwback to a less sophisticated time:  intimacy, direct involvement, and performers trying to expand the traditional repertoire of their specific set of skills.

Kelly Miller Circus, now under the guidance of Jim Judkins, has chosen the latter approach, which is merely to say that it is purposefully different than what has been tried before.  However, in that difference there are some significant similarities to what we had come to find familiar in the previous incarnation of the title.  The peanut pitch and the coloring book are unashamedly retained.  Before decrying such activities as an artless sales pitch, it is important to consider the effect of these interactions.  Of course they help the bottom line, but perhaps more importantly they bring the audience and the salesmen (performers) into a level of contact that is impossible in much of the rest of the performance.    Hence a level of intimacy is unmistakably achieved.

Other changes brought about by the new management is the arrangement of seating under the big top. There are no chairs with backs, eliminating any suggestion of moving upscale.   The seating is entirely egalitarian made up of steel bleachers.  The performers’ entrance has been moved up directly behind the single ring (which is now more oval than circular), eliminating the gulf that once separated performers from audience.  The portal itself is draped with black curtains, eschewing any sort of decoration.

And then, of course there are the acts representing a fairly complete review of standard ground and aerial acts: rola bola, aerial strap, clowning, hula hooping, hand balancing, contortion, fire eating, Russian swing, juggling, tight wire, corde lisse, and rope jumping, all of which are rendered with professional expertise.

Much of this is being offered up by a pair of Mongolian artists whose numbers eventually grow into a full-fledged,  seven member troupe as the performance progresses.   But it is not just in size that the Zangar Troupe impresses.  Not only do they make several increasingly interesting appearances , but the complications they add to some standard circus turns like the jump rope display is indicative of the level of skill to which they aspire and impress.

The clowning, presented by EZ and Kozee, a husband and wife team, is not particularly funny, (one of their gags seems a derivative of a Combs and Copeland gag) but they are engaging and help establish that level of intimacy I spoke of earlier.

There is also a nod toward achieving some level of spectacle thanks to the literally brilliant display of fire eating performed by Lamount Dias who is billed as the Human Volcano and also serves as a very low-keyed ringmaster.

Judging by the audience reaction, especially a tent full of kids, this is an approach that audiences  seem to appreciate.  It has the feel of successful entertainment .

A New Water Circus Turns out to be a Soggy Affair

Those who live by special effects are most likely to die by special effects, and it is abundantly clear that Cirque Italia has committed itself wholeheartedly to wowing audiences with special effects rather than relying on the sensations created by outstanding acts.

What we are talking about here specifically is water falling in showers and shooting up in a spray of fountains encircling the entire performance space.  This effect remains in place for almost the entire first act and returns again for an unnecessary second showing in the second half.  Since it is left in place for so long it might as well be black drapes because it soon loses any kind of impact it first had despite efforts to goose up the effect  occasionally with more hopefully enlivening special effects  through changes in lighting and lasers.  These two elements of production are really the show’s major claim to fame and more or less what it is all about—except  for the sale of novelties and food.  During the best act in the show a juggling display by two men the sale of concessions which had formerly been curtailed  is resumed and allowed to detract from the display of skill  even though it had been banned when the water is turned on.

I should point out here that I am unable to provide the names of any of the performers.  There are no ring announcements, no program and no press kit made available to the media.  What seems clear with out any help is that the skill level here in general  is not always up to the level of what we saw on Kelly Miller which has no pretentions of being something grand and spectacular.

Because of the water effects, most of the acts are forced to perform in a tight center circle, which only opens up when the water is turned off and the juggling takes over.

The real problem is that none of this contributes to any kind of build in excitement or dramatic interest as the performance moves along at a steady unvarying level of involvement.  It is all rather flat as act follows act with no appreciable rise in excitement , partly because of the unchanging décor but also because of a similarly unvarying level of skill regardless of the kind of act.  The acts included a female duo on aerial spar, rola bola, and clowning featuring the former star clown of Cason and Barnes.  There is also a solo male on a Chinese pole, a mermaid who begins working  corde lisse before seguing to Spanish web.  A female contortionist,  the afore mentioned juggling duo , solos on the wheel of death, the Washington trapeze, slack wire, a fabric sling, and a male contortionist round out the program.  Some real excitement is finally interjected into the show in the closing act, a five person roller skating act.

A comedy trampoline routine from the two clowns is one of the more engaging spots in the program.  The clowning in general being more effective than the other acts.  At intermission, people could have their picture taken with a very impressive looking dinosaur and the star clown for $10 a pop.

The music is not much help in providing some changes in pace or excitement,  except for the occasional recognizable pop tune that accompanies the clowning,  the music is as bland as elevator  music.

In addition to all the water Cirque Italia’s physical operation  is quite eye-catching , with a very good looking big top and façade.  The show also plays an exhausting schedule that includes a six pack on weekends,