Passing Spectacle Vol. II, No. 2

Paris 2013:  Four Circuses in Three Days

Friday: January 11, 2013, 8:30 pm

At Cirque d’Hiver, that bastian of traditional French circus dating back to the Napoleonic era, it was gratifying, and admittedly a bit chauvinistic, to watch American clown Rob Torres walk off with the show.  He opens and closes the performance and the audience seems to know instinctively what he wants from them from the moment they begin clapping rhythmically with the music.  Once he has the audience with him, he orchestrates their applause and finally, collects it for future use and safe keeping in a small box that will eventually provide a charming and touching period at the close of the show, and help him and us to walk off into the night cheered by the remembrances of the smiles and laughter he had given us throughout the night.

In between the opening and closing he appears several times during the course of the performance, each a rousing success, but none more so than his patented cup juggling routine, that occasionally goes awry and requires the curative ministrations of a woman in the audience.  The final moment of this entrée elicits a burst of laughter that rocks the house.

In another appearance Rob Torres enlists a member of the audience whom he recruits as his drummer.  His handling of the situation is quite respectful, rather sweet, really, and not at all threatening or humiliating.  By the end of the act he even manages to turn his drummer into the hero of the piece, when they trade places and the anonymous man performs the trick of pulling a table cloth out from under a table setting while Torres provides the drum roll.

Thanks in large part to Torres’ performances the Cirque d’Hiver show Eclat, produced by the Bouglione family, was the most thoroughly enjoyable show of the quartet I took in on one hectic weekend.  The others had their moments as well, but none so thoroughly as this.

My other favorite acts in the show included Tempo Rouge  a new duo trapeze act that I had not seen before.  Such surprises are always welcome, especially, when the artists add skill and drama to the novelty.  Their act begins with a tango performed on the ground.  That style of moves is retained once aloft in an exciting series of drops and catches,  an excellent and impressive act altogether.

When Anton Monastyrsky, a male hula hoop dance,r began his act, I thought I knew what to expect, but once again I was pleasantly surprised by the numerous new gyrations he had added to what turned out to be a novel routine.  He incorporates a couple of different size hoops into his act, which includes passing his entire body through the spinning hoops in surprising ways on several occasions, turning what at first seemed a predictable act into a pleasantly original piece.

The great thing about this show is that it introduced new acts or familiar ones with new routines, so it was always engaging, and often quite exciting, especially with the large, live orchestra that accompanied all the acts.

Sampion Bouglione, opens his ball bouncing act with a flash of pure flamenco dancing.  He then proceeds to incorporate flamenco and tap dancing into his ball bouncing first with three balls, varying the rhythms produced as the balls and his boots pound the floor.  One section of his act is presented in such rapid fire that it almost becomes a blur.  When he works with five balls he incorporates a series of spins building to a double.  I found this to be a very lively and entertaining act.

We have seen Jenna (Diana Vedyashkina) and her six dachshunds previously with Ringling Gold.  Her act here seems completely revised.  The low slung dogs follow her about in single file through circular patterns, which combined with her own elegant style makes for a charming display, especially when they all sit up in unison on a series of red top hats.  The simplicity of it all is utterly charming, no yapping of dogs, no frenzied pleas for attention, everything completely in control.

Régina Bouglione presents a version of the classic big and small act, here titled Minimum and Maximum.  The novelty here is in the breed of horses, and in some of the ways in which they interact.  The Appaloosa was a large draft style animal and the other a miniature horse, rather than a pony.  The charming thing is the unexpected way in which the mini backs his way under the maxi instead of just running under head on, which is the predictable maneuver. At one point the big animal even manages to maneuver the mini under his frame both facing forward, a rather amazing display of showing who is boss.  A second miniature enters after the original pair leaves and does a hind leg walk backwards for the act’s final exit.   I found Regina’s ring manner quite appealing, looking on with delight as if it were the animals who thought up the routine.

Best of all was Trio Bellisimo, the female trio first seen last summer in the Spiegletent in New York City.  Here they are even more startling and impressive, without the bother of having to seem depraved as was the case in New York.  It is the only act performed to recorded music that includes a tenor who reaches a vocal climax at the same moment as the girls’ impressive contortion and balancing act does.  I was particularly impressed with the grace with which they slipped out of each complicated pose.  In speaking with them after the show they told me that they had completely reworked their act since I last saw it, and it is indeed even more polished and exciting an act than it was previously.

Adding to the variety and sense of fun is a ten person teeterboard act, Troupe Fantasy, whose most impressive accomplishment is a four-high column completed without a lunge.

European audiences always get into the entrees of musical clowns, and everyone has a good time clapping in rhythm to their classical musical selections.  In addition to their musical contributions Les Mitchel, along with Alberto Caroli, like so many other such trios eventually devolve into what the English like to call as “slosh” act, a term that I find very apropos, what with there being water, water everywhere, particularly in your face.

Other acts I found somewhat less interesting.  The opening cage act of Redi Montico is a rather brief exercise that includes exactly five tricks performed by the five tigers, opening with a pose on the pyramid of furniture which then needs to be dismantled and pushed aside, for the rest of the act. It is all very expeditiously handled if rather perfunctory merely to have a caged act in the show and snarling tigers on the advertising artwork.

The second half of the program I found to be in general less interesting than the first.  It opens with another of the Boulgione women, Irina, doing some pole dancing, which however you look at it, especially erotically, seems to be all foreplay and no climax.   If there is any novelty here it is the flexible high heels she wears with her bejeweled bikini.  But this is undercut by yet another Boulgione woman, Natalia, on straps, who also works in the same footwear, with approximately the same effect.

A bowman and knife thrower, Les Jasper, presents a predictable act, which as one considers the dreadful accidents this kind of act has been infamous for of late, leaves one feeling rather uncomfortable.

The youngest Bougliones, who are obviously serving their performance apprenticeship these days, present some cleverly devised illusions, including a Chihuahua that appears out of a suddenly ambulatory truck the youngest boy has assembled.  These acts, dependent more on the props than the presenters, are always on and off rather quickly  before we catch on to what they are up to, which isn’t much.

All the acts in the show, however, are beautifully staged with interesting and varied bows framed inside the inner portal of the performer’s entrance.  The lighting and live twelve-piece orchestra always add immeasurably to the effect, as do the various entrances.   Joseph Bouglione who has staged the show has a sure hand with theatrics and uses them freely to give the show a bit of splash and flash, as do, of course, the show’s eight-girl ensemble of Salto Dancers, who first come into view upon the central elevator stage, with the ringmaster Michel Palmer.  This is always an exciting entrance as the girls are raised to stage level and then begin their energetic dancing, which sometimes amounts to nothing more than waving semaphore signals.  I often wonder why they don’t really include flags with that routine which requires them to remain stationary and out of the way while the ring is set. It would surely be visually much more exciting than simply seeing them wave their arms about.

All in all I would say this was the most thoroughly enjoyable of the four shows I saw on this visit.  Others had moments of glory but none so consistently as this one at Cirque d’Hiver.

To view a video preview and examine still photos of Eclat go to www.cirquedhiver.com

 

Saturday, January 12, 2013, 2 pm.

Cirque Pinder Jean Richard is probably the circus most popular with middle class Parisian audiences.  At the mid-day matinee I attended I was assaulted on all sides by kids who dominated the packed house.  Cirquer Pinder is a big operation, most comparable to America’s Cole Bros Circus of the Stars, although it lacks that show’s pacing and energy.  A very young ringmaster, whom I could not find identified either in the program book or online, is in charge of the announcements and presumably the pacing, although the latter is somewhat in question as this was certainly the most leisurely paced, if not lethargic, performance of the four I attended.  But its popular prices make it more affordable than the others, and the huge tent was packed the afternoon of a three-show-day when I saw it.

A large portion of the program is populated by a Cuban contingent which is billed as a Cuban Fiesta.  They appear numerous times.  The first in a rope jumping exhibition which turns out to be entirely rudimentary,  about on the level of advanced school yard jumping.  The most impressive thing about this appearance of the troupe is the size of the voluminously ruffled sleeves the eleven members, male and female, all sport.

The aggregation’s most impressive appearance is as the Flying Caraïbes.  Their rigging here uses a middle catcher in a lock which hangs from the top of the rig.   All of the flyers exhibit very nice form, especially in their returns; however, these include no pirouettes or other embellishments.  They simply have nice, clean lines.  Their repertoire includes a very tight triple and a passing leap with the second flyer dropping down from the center catcher.  Oddly enough in a program that seems in no hurry to get anywhere, and in an act notorious for long waits between leaps, this act is smartly paced, allowing almost no down time before we are into the next leap.

The Cubans also present acts that feature the Russian bar and the teeterboard.  The former being only marginally more accomplished than the rope jumping.  Almost every landing, but for a truly impressive triple to the bar, required a spotter to help the flyer land securely.  The music used in this act, like all of the Cubans’ appearances, was a recording of Latin music that is undeniably infectious and really energizes the acts.

The teeterboard display is their best work.  Seven members of the troupe are involved here, with each of the tricks securely executed.  One of the most impressive was what amounted to a four-high column with the topmounted catcher standing atop a spar without any aids to keep him secure.  A triple to the chair was lunged and on the first try the flyer bounced out of his seat. On the second try he nailed it perfectly.

Followed the rope jumping which opened the show a very slow moving display of mixed exotics, six true camels (two humps)  three burros, one zebra, two llamas or alpacas, and two palominos took over the ring.  The llamas eventually jump over the camels once these placid but not to be hurried creatures have taken their sweet old time about getting down into position.  The animals were presented and urged on  to little effect by Beat Decker.

The animals are followed by Gina Giovanni who does hand balancing atop a very high perch, which is the most distinctive aspect of the act, and employs a device for elevating her even further, while she is  balancing up-side-down.  A one-hand hand stand is her big trick followed by a two-handed handstand bounce down the flight of steps that lead from her airy perch.

She and the other acts are assisted by the ring crew which must be the most unstylish group of such individuals in any show I have seen, which I think more or less characterizes the entire performance.

Two Asian elephants also presented at their leisure, with little apparent effort to move them along.  The high point of the act is when the trainer lies under the larger bull.  Decker, who is listed as the superintendent of the menagerie, may also have presented these animals as well, although it is unclear from program.

Clowns Claude Brunel and his son Benji are a major part of the second half of the program.  They work as a trio with the white face clown (a woman) as  Les Cardinali.  They, too, like the traditional clowns of Cirque d’Hiver, present a slop act, spraying partially chewed bits of apple all over the ring and a good portion of the audience as well.  It’s not very appetizing or sanitary, but the European audiences don’t seem to mind,  au contraire, they eat it up.  Earlier in the program the younger Brunel, Benji, does a bit with a boom box which the ringmaster keeps trying to shut down, a variation on the “you can’t play that here.”   When the delays in getting the ring set up are longer than usual, vendors pass through the audience hawking lights and swords, with little apparent success.  However, I must say that at intermission the kids were returning to their seats with their hands full of cotton candy that looked freshly spun and actually flossy, which we don’t usually see in the U.S.

The highlight of the show was Sophie Edelstein’s magic act.  Assisted by three guys in black who quickly strip off their shirts to work bare-chested, Edelstein, in the character of a dominatrix who occasionally gets a bit of her own back, presents a series of illusions in which the boys and she keep disappearing and appearing where we least expect them.  It all happens so quickly it’s difficult to keep up with who is where and under what circumstances.  It is by far the fastest paced segment of the show, so fast in fact, that it goes by in a blur of fantastical props where people are restrained one minute only to revealed somewhere else with someone else now taking their place.  It’s all rather sexy in an s/m sort of way what with the boys and Sophie taking turns being tortured in various forms of bondage.

The other half of the Edelstein family, or at least the performing side of the family (the older generation, represented by Gilbert Edelstein is the show’s president and general director), is Frederic Edelstein, who presents a cage act with three male and three female lions and two tigers.  Their tricks include a long leap from one pedestal to another, sit ups, lie downs, roll overs, and lots of displays of affection between Edelstein and one tiger in particular.  Edelstein also gets cozy with a group of lions with whom he lies down and cuddles.  All of the cats, once dismissed, saunter very slowly back home.   The act closes with the most impressive of the males sitting on a mirror ball along with the trainer.  A long spiel, in French of course, about the animals is delivered by the ringmaster to cover part of the cage break down, while a solo female on silks doing a standard and therefore predictable routine kills the rest of the time needed to clear the ring.

The performance closes with a group of six young women, whose identity is unclear, since the printed program deviates from the actual program, having changed at some point during its long holiday-season run.  The six use contortion to twist themselves into various stacked poses.  The degree of skill is limited and the variations in their act are a result of how they happen to arrange themselves. All this is done to some overly dramatic music, which hardly matches what they are doing.  All the music by the way is recorded, Pinder being the only one of the four shows I saw in Paris that does not use live music.   As a closing number this one is decidedly rather weak.  A spurt of fireworks helps to put a button on the performance following the parade of artists.

For more information and to view images of Cirque Pinder go to www.cirquepinder.com

 

Saturday, January 12, 2013,  8:30 pm.

A few yards from Cirque Pinder, up the lane that is Pelouse de Reuilly, we find Cirque Phenix.  Its new show, CirkAfrika, is as much The Lion King as it is a circus.

The various acts take place against a permanent background created by a metallic tree with silvery leaves.  Into the trunk of the tree a tunnel has been cut to provide an entrance for the various acts. In addition there are ramps to the right and left of the stage.  The orchestra, made up of eight black men, is stationed to both sides of the tree.  The major playing area is a large rectangular thrust stage.

The action, or rather the mise en scène, opens with the roar of an airplane, perhaps crash landing.  Moments later a white aviator lands tumbling to the ground, as if he has been thrown from the plane.  We next hear vocal sounds reminiscent of the music of the Disney musical The Lion King.  In fact that is often a recurring impression, as this production borrows from the musical in various ways.

Drummers enter followed by a troupe of energetic dancers in feathered headdresses.  They are followed by  a troupe of ten acrobats who build various pyramids and human structures, with amazing speed, often literally throwing themselves at their compatriots to be quickly incorporated into the finished products, several of  which reach four high.  It is not only the most successful blending of African culture and circus, it is also the most exciting act of the show thanks to its speed and the abandon with which it is performed.  Sadly the show never achieves that level of excitement again.

The aviator, who would appear to be a linking element, but appears only sporadically and rather capriciously at that, now appears to be chased by a giant frog, in the person of Mohamedi Ramadhani Makuka , who, once he removes his froggy head piece, executes a series of contortions and joint testing maneuvers.  Towards the end of his act he pulls himself through a tennis racket the hard way, one foot and head first, and finishes by folding himself into a tiny plastic cube, a trick that is quickly becoming rather ubiquitous.

Once the cube has been removed, without Makuka reappearing, a stilt walker, Charles Boniface Mhina, sporting a voodoo mask does a brief bit of stiff legged dancing.  He finishs by falling to the ground and getting himself righted without any outside assistance, which when on stilts, is not a simple matter.

This leads to another of those images that put us in mind of The Lion King.  A parade of animals, life-sized puppets, makes its way around the outer ring of box seats.  Such references, when one has actually experienced Julie Taymor’s Broadway production, simply serve to remind us how original and magical her work is in comparison. Here we have a giraffe, an elephant, and lots of flag waving, the procession moving rather slowly around the theater making its way back to the stage exit.  Onstage there are several exotic birds flitting about, a crocodile and our froggy friend.   This leads, in a rather lethargic way, to the intermission, sending audiences out to the lobby considerably less than ecstatic.

Following the interval, the second half of the show starts with another high point that is difficult to top.  The aviator, José Batista Do Rego, now encounters a hip-hop kid Lizo James on a park bench and together they work their way through a series of highly energetic, acrobatic, eccentric dance movements.  This is an act we had seen a few years back in the Cirque de Demain festival from the Zip Zap circus of South Africa, and it is still as fresh and exhilarating as ever, and may, in fact, have provided the contacts that made CirkAfrika possible.

A series of circus acts follow.  The first is Wubshet Amare Sahale’s solo performance manipulating a diabolo,  which like all diabolo solos is as difficult to follow as the intricacies of a spider web.  This one is especially subtle and complex.  On this large stage solo performances seem a bit lost in the empty vastness.  Lighting  might have helped provide a tighter focus.

A four person risley act is fast paced and fun to watch, as the two young men who are literally being juggled by their partners, get tossed about, passed between them in a risley version of the passing leap, and sometimes end up atop the same juggler.  In addition to its speed, this act is rather stylishly presented by the quartet of Awet Alem Nurhussen, Mulugeta Genetu Yirga, Zeray Gebreamalak Mesfin, and Gebrekiros Asela Tsegay.

The biggest ensemble act of the second half involves those ubiquitous drummers and more dancers who help to frame Evans Osah’s unique juggling display, which ends with him setting eight wash basins to  spinning at once.

Eight men next perform a series of acrobatic turns on a set of four Chinese Poles.  The emphasis here is on exhibitions of strength as the men ascend the poles in a variety of displays of pure power.  The act opens with an impressive and innovative display involving a bit of hand balancing near the top of one of the poles.  Otherwise, the act is a compilation of moves that are more or less standard in such a display.

The production next turns purely musical, echoing the sounds of “The Circle of Life” from The Lion King.  While such harmonies are surely indigenous to and evocative of Africa, when combined  with some of the other elements of the show, it seems to lack originality.

Another solo act is presented by ball bouncer Abere Alemayehu Debebe, who, if I am not mistaken, we saw in the States with the Big Apple Circus not so many seasons ago.  In any case, his performance here, made up and costumed to fit the African theme, continues to be very impressive.  The speed with which  he keeps the balls in motion, the novelty of his moves, and the amazing control required to achieve all this, make for a fascinating act.

Another dance group next takes over the stage.  Dressed as miners, with lighted lanterns on their helmets, the five men and five women deliver a rousing routine of hand clapping, foot stomping and body slapping which eventually asks for some audience participation.  It is a very long number, and this time we are reminded of the long running show in New York titled Stomp.

A solo unicyclist,  Baraka Juma Ferouz, makes his way through a fairly predictable routine of several different sized one-wheel cycles.  His finish trick, however, in which he rides the tiniest unicycle conceivable, is nothing short of amazing.  Pedaling it about beats even riding the tiny bicycles we often see elsewhere.

The next act finally gets some help from some dramatic lighting that fills the stage and enhances the drama of the double strap act presented by Maulidi Ugumba Maulid and Hussein Hamisi Bangusilo.  Until its final moment which involves an exciting fall and last second catch, it is a fairly routine display of this skill set.

Ebebech Kasa Meherete’s hula hoop spinning comes rather late in the evening creating an anticlimax, especially since this kind of act which is not all that exciting or impressive in the first place, and she has nothing new to add to the genre.

The seemingly inevitable audience participation gambit  begins the final segment of the show.  Someone in the audience is invited to the stage to try his hand at drumming.  His efforts finally yield to lots more drumming and shaking and a circle dance that leads to the company bows.  By this time, I must confess, I had begun to grow weary of the sameness of the dancing and singing and the sounds, although, to give credit where it is due,  when the onstage bands participates fully the musical sound is terrific.

As far as I can tell the stage director was François Barrière, the scenery was by Magda Hadnagy, the mise en scène was by Alain Pachiere who is also the director of creations for Cirque Phenix, and Pascal Jacob is artistic director.  The scenic director is Syvain Guillaume, and lighting is by Antonio de Carvalho.

To view a video preview and images from CirkAfrika go to www.cirquephenix.com

 

Sunday, January 13, 2013, 2:30 pm. 

Part parody, part homage to cinema,  Ellipse, the current production of Cirque National, Alexis Gruss, is sometimes inspired by the music from the movies, and sometimes just a genre of film or filmmaking in general.  In other words it does not have a consistent point of view.  The films it fondly recalls are mostly American and some French.   But in the end, it is the horses and the horsemanship that saves the day, and it is not until the ring carpet is removed for good that the production does what the Gruss family does best.

I suppose the youngest members of the family, like those of the Boulgiones are entitled, by birth it would seem, to learn their art in front of paying audiences.   But perhaps for the sake of their shows the family should let them develop their skills in private, because as of yet none of them have any marketable skills to speak of except perhaps for a certain well disciplined stage presence.

I am unaware of there having been any prologue that established the theme of this production, for I was a few minutes late in being seated, so I may have missed it.  The first moment I saw was a spoof of Mission Impossible, a film crew at work on the imaginary film set as Firmin Gruss is  lowered into a telephone booth.  It is interesting visually, but not terribly funny.

The next film to be recognized is Cleopatra, with Gipsy Gruss in full queenly Egyptian regalia seated on a horse which executes some moves from the haute ecole repertoire.  This is accomplished around a group of four dancers, two male and two female, whose “authentic” poses, inspired by Egyptian pottery, look awkward to the point of being silly.  In the meantime Gipsy tries her best to look imperial or is it impervious to it all.  The ring at this point is covered from bank to bank by a red carpet, which did not bode well for what was to come until it was removed.

We next hear the 20th Century Fox fanfare, which would have seemed more appropriate as an introduction to the musical interlude that followed later than as a way of heralding the era of the black and white film. A spoof, costumed in black and white, of The Scream, reaches for some ghostly slapstick. Sarah Florees, sister of Tony Florees (Maud’s husband)  plays the embodiment of the screaming face and is literally twisted out of shape in the process.  Like the earlier spoof of Mission Impossible, this one is staged as if it we were watching it being filmed.  In any case it fails to deliver much of a comedic punch.

A family musical ensemble, however, in which the entire three generations are represented, is much more powerful.  The music here is taken from various films and composers like Michel Legrand and John Williams,  from Indiana Jones to Rocky, a “Grand Medley of Music from Films.”

For a fast change of pace, Francesco Fratellini works his way up a flight of stairs on a bike and once at the top does a bit of hand balancing. I’m not quite sure how, but this is supposed to reference Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.  Francesco Fratellini, by the way, is usually paired with Firmin Gruss for the spoofs that require some clowning.  Like this one, some references are rather strained, while others, like the following piece, are instantly recognizable.

The Polar Express brings on Nathalie Gruss doing some foot juggling, her props being fashioned as various large toys designed to be juggleable.  She has dyed her hair red for the occasion, especially her second appearance on a strange bit of aerial apparatus when she is surrounded by vampires, and the blood red backdrop almost matches the color of her hair in Dracula’s honor.  To make this kind of act and those involving the youngest members of the family work a lot of gimmickry is required.  The final object juggled is a mirror ball, and the entire scene ends in blasts of shooting flames.

Another spoof pokes fun at Zorro who arrives on horseback.  Like the others it is set up as if we were on the film set. Once again, there is a good bit of slapstick, but little true comedy.

Alexis finally gets into the action in a homage to the film The Black Swan.  Mathilde Françoise plays the white swan and as her rival, Alexis appears astride a black horse, costumed in black.  His mount executes some dressage that is designed to look as if the two are engaged in a pas de deux.

Louis Gruss (the middle son of Stephan and Nathalie, 14 years old) is seen in a scene in which he chases a spotlight in an act reminiscent of Emmett Kelly, but probably should have been part of the Dracula set, because he finally drives a stake through the heart of the spot, and then imprisons it in a basket that lights up.  He finally relents and releases it.  Despite the Kelly reference, the inspiration for this sketch is said to have come from Georges Méliès’ film Clin d’oeil.

Fog rolls in, the carpet rolls out and seven gorgeous Friesian horses enter to cavort about without a human in sight to impose his will upon them.  The entrance of the horses draws applause which might have been a substitute for a sigh of relief.  At last we have the Grusses doing what they do best.  Here it is Maud Florees, who finally enters, gorgeously gowned, to put the horses through their paces with elegance and a minimum of cuing.  She is just there to enjoy their movement.  In the meantime on the backdrop which is now a movie screen, an ocean appears in which every so often porpoises do their graceful leaps and dives.  All in all it is a quite lovely and very much a welcome interlude, inspired by Le Grand Bleu.

In celebrating of the Romanesque trilogy The Lord of the Rings, the ring remains uncarpeted for the most thrilling part of the show: juggling on horseback with Stephan and his twin sons Charles and Alexandre (now a bleached blond).  Dressed in medieval robes and tunics, they each juggle individually on three separate horses.  From this they move on to a passing routine between one on the ground to another on a horse, then all three are up at once.  First Stephan and Alexandre feed Charles, and then Stephan standing on one horse facing its rump, the boys each on one of two tethered horses, facing forward, execute a passing routine that is hell bent for leather, fast and furious and desperately exciting, thanks also to the musical accompaniment whose beat is that of a racing heart.  At one point they are each handling four clubs and then five.  The horses are galloping, the clubs are flying and the band is pounding out a tempo that is just short of frantic.  What a way to bring on an intermission, for by this time we need to catch our breathe.

For this production, unlike the physical arrangement used in the company’s previous productions, the lower area of the revolving stage normally occupied by the orchestra has been converted to a movie screen and the band has been moved above it.  Getting the ring carpet in and out has also required the use of a much bigger ring crew. Normally the family does it all.  That is not possible here.  Removing that carpet takes more man power than they have so extra help has been hired.  Also the four member dancing ensemble is another new addition.

After some dancing in long black cloaks by the ensemble, Tony Florees, Maud’s husband,  provides a solo juggling turn inspired by the film Matrix,  and he, too, like the soloists in CirkAfrika looks rather lonely in the big ring all by himself, and to make matters worse he was not having a good time of it at the performance I saw, having lots of drops.  He tried keeping nine rings aloft  three times and finally succeeded on the fourth try.  He often looked disgusted with himself.  Not a good image to project, no matter how badly things may be going.

Next  we are in the jungle, where Louis does some rather simple tricks on the rola bola, including stacking three benches on the bola board, and concluding by revolving on a bowling ball, while younger brother Joseph, eight years old,  does a tiny bit of diabolo manipulation, dressed, as some sort of marsupial

A spoof of The Godfather, done in slow motion, is topped off with the wonderful sight gag of a bullet traveling in slow motion matching the moves of the human actors.

Nathalie returns next working on a collection of ropes, in an act inspired by the film Dracula.  Here she works on a rather strange bit of rigging, which allows her to close with what looks like a fall with a last second catch.

Louis is back once more with a bit of bell ringing, which happens to be nicely done but leaves me wondering what it has to do with The Elephant Man movie, except for the skewed eyeglasses he wears.  More than anything the act seems like nothing more than another time filler as the ring is cleared and set for another equestrian display.

Maud (nee Gruss) Florees

This one is set in Havana.  It is a very attractive exhibition of Spanish riding dressed in refreshingly simple Cuban-styled costumes.  It is presented by Maud and her husband, and it is especially beautiful as the horses high-step their way over a series of low fences.  Here at last is a lovely effortless and smartly accomplished number after so much clumsy artlessness.

A horse jumps through a movie screen to introduce Alexis’ masterful presentation of a series of unbridled horses, in an apt bit of homage to the film The Artist.  Surely Alexis Gruss is an artist in his own métier. It is wonderful to watch him relate to the animals and communicate his admiration of them as a reward for their splendid performances.  That is reward enough.  After the solos three new horses execute the complicated weave maneuver, and the mini white, apparently one of Alexis’ favorite, is allowed to frolic on its own, before three beauties gallop about the ring and perform a series of rears onto the hind legs.

For a broad change of pace, Firmin brings on the elephant Syndha, who picks him up and carries him around the ring held by one leg in the elephant’s mouth.  A hind leg stand transitions into a head stand.  All in all it is a fast paced act that has Firmin exit alone leaving the animal to pick up the whip and take it off by itself.

The entire cast is next outfitted in white tie and tails, recalling the scene in My Fair Lady at the Royal Ascot when all of the characters were costumed by Cecil Beaton in black and white.  Carrying on that color scheme Gipsy presents two Dalmatians in a little display that has the unfortunate effect of  making her look awkward and ungainly, as the dogs walk through her outstretched legs.

To the music of “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend” from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes Maud presents a sparkling pad act, which is followed by two couples each on a tandem of bareback horses in complimentary pas de dues.  The couples are Maud and her husband Tony Florees and Firmin and one of the dancers.  The music here is drawn from such films as Top Hat, Moulin Rouge, West Side Story, Hairspray, Rent and Chorus Line.

And then we have at last the crème de la crème, a jockey act, with running leaps first into an astride position and then standing, two and three on a horse, and finally two at once.

The production concludes with a homage to A Chorus Line in an approximation of that show’s final number with all seventeen cast members adding top hats to their formal attire, producing a rousing finish.

The show ran two and three-quarter hours, at least a half hour of it taken up with rather weak material that could have been cut, thus producing a much tighter, more exciting and possibly even a terrific show.

 

Dinosaurs on Broadway

This is definitely the year of the dragon and their close relative, the dinosaur.  First Ringling celebrated the year of the dragon by making it the centerpiece of their latest production.  Then there was Training Your Dragon at the Meadowlands arena and now we have Erth’s Dinosaur Zoo at the New Victory Theatre on 42nd St., in New York, surely the most educational of the trio and in some ways the most charming, aimed directly at kids, for whom, judging by my young grandson, dinosaurs are an absorbing fascinating.

Erth brings its realistic, life-sized dinosaurs to us from Australia, “bridging the gap,” according to program notes, “between cultural and theatrical institutions by bringing physical theatre and puppetry to museum environments.”  So as you might expect there is something of all these elements in the production that charmed, entertained and informed audiences at the New Vic.

The program is hosted by Scott Wright, artistic director of Erth, whose low-keyed delivery always manages to get audiences wildly excited and, comversely, quiet and attentive when the need be.  In essence the performance is a lesson in the history of the earth and its early inhabitants, the dinosaurs.  It neither stints on scientific information nor on the fun of scaring its young audiences when the occasion arises.  Never once, however, is there a sense that the kids are being talked down to.  Some of the jokes may be specifically directed at parents, but both ages get an equal share of fun and new information.  I learned, for instance, that T-Rex was a native of America, that some dinosaur remains were found in my native New Jersey, and how to hypnotize a chicken, which doesn’t look all that different from some dinosaurs, when you think about it.

The animated lecture begins with some baby dinosaurs who are brought on stage and a surrogate audience member gets to pet them.  The rest of us are taught how best to do this should we ever encounter such a creature.  But it seems good advice to apply to meeting any animal.   Two other previously chosen youngsters from the audience also get a chance to have a close up encounter with the various species of dinosaurs.  The most fun comes when one is invited to stick his head into the mouth of T-Rex.  What a display of bravery.

In addition to Wright the presentation includes the work of six puppeteers who manipulate the dinosaurs with no attempt to make themselves disappear completely, but the magic is such that while we are fully aware of their presence the creatures they handle also seem to be just as fully alive.

If you wish to get a visual taste of what the show is like, visit Dinosaurs on Broadway on UTube.