International Spectacle, Vol. II, No. 2

Monte Carlo Festival

Still Capable of Delivering Some Surprises

 and Happy Reunions

 

This was my eleventh visit to the Monte Carlo International Circus Festival in as many years.  What it has come down to for me is waiting and hoping to be surprised either by an act I have never seen before, a new trick or way of presenting a traditional act or, most happily, a combination of both.   I’ve seen enough of most kinds of circus acts for that to be increasingly difficult; however, there were some wonderful surprises and rewarding renewals of acquaintances  with some acts I have seen before and admired enormously, all of which made the 37th edition of the festival thoroughly enjoyable.

The first act to deliver everything I could hope to find in a circus act came from Duo Shcherbak and Popov, champions from the Ukraine Acrobatic Gymnastics National team.  Their utterly amazing and thoroughly captivating display of hand to hand, was performed to the lilting refrain of “Singing in the Rain,”  music which perfectly captured the playful mood of this duo’s interplay.  The smaller member of the duo balances on one hand on his partner’s neck while that partner is in a hand stand, followed by a somersault into the understander’s arms. It all looks so simple and is done with such ease, that it makes every moment of their all too brief stay in the ring, casually breathtaking.

This act, like another I had seen before, Aleksander Koblykov, the solo juggler from the Kiev State Circus School never over stayed their welcome and actually left us wishing for more.  Both acts projected  a refreshing sense of pleasure taken in their work.  Dressed in a sailor suit, Koblykov, winner of gold at the Paris festival a few years ago, tosses balls around himself, five behind his back and around his sailor hat, and from hand to foot. Eventually he keeps ten balls aloft for a much longer time than is usually seen in other jugglers and brought them back without a drop.  He then does fourteen for a bit and ends catching the last ball behind his neck, as the others fall to the ground around him.  It is all done with casual, charming aplomb.  As a result it is nothing short of captivating to watch this young man with his sly deadpan humor and disarming nonchalance.

Another act I had never seen before was that of Cubans Leosvei and Diosmani who performed on the Chinese pole.  These  two good looking guys present a very good looking act.  Working bare chested, theirs is an amazing display of both strength and beefcake with a couple of astounding novelties thrown in for good measure.  Once the understander is in the horizontal flag position his partner does a hand stand on his chest

The most unusual act of the festival, provoking something of a debate as to whether or not it was a circus act or not, was presented by Jean-François Pignon, a display of the freest of liberty horses. His animals circle about him and move into position with no apparent cueing.   He climbs aboard and takes all six (five white, one brown)  around the ring as he stands on the middle two Roman-style.  Five foals are then added to the mix and wander about. As the adults lie down, their heads flat on the ground, the foals become eerily still.   Circus or not, it was the first time this Pignon showed his work with horses in a circus ring.  His brother Frederick was one of the earliest stars of the equestrian spectacle Cavalia.

Pignon worked in both programs of the festival.  In both appearances the horses worked without bridle or any tack at all.  In the second outing Pignon worked with each of the horses individually.   One of the horses put his forelegs on Pignon’s shoulders, another performed some classic dressage without all the tack all such horses require in order to be cued.  What keeps it from being a true circus act is that in order to get the horses to do as asked often takes more time that such an act would be allotted in a circus performance.

The aerial duo from the Pyongyang Circus is another of those acts I had not seen before.  Such an act is quite unusual for the North Koreans who usually present a rather straight-forward display of skill, almost always aerial.  In this act we are at sea, witnessing an aerial rescue of a female floundering in rough waters.  The act opens with a thunder bolt, one of the few times such sound effects make sense.  This is followed by the whirl of rotating blades, and a male, presumably suspended by an unseen helicopter, plucks the young woman out of the raging tempest, and they go on to perform an interesting variation of a strap act, with some of straps occasionally lopped into a cloud swing.  The rather lyrical music is also uncharacteristic of North Koreans as the two eventually fall in love.  Imagine a North Korean true romance.

The latest fad in circus acts utilizes a wall full of windows and a trampoline, inspired by the innovation first introduced in Cirque du Soleil’s La Nouba in Orlando, Florida, more than a dozen years ago.  (Say what you will about Cirque du Soleil, the company has advanced circus skills in each of its earliest productions.)  Only recently has the wall-trampoline become increasingly ubiquitous.  The Cat-Wall a Canadian troupe of young gymnasts places the wall between two trampolines so that they can bounce off one, pass through the wall and onto the second trampoline.  The wall is set perpendicular to the band stand and entrance. The seven member troupe (only one of which is female) perform to a swing music score, and the configuration of their apparatus allows for lots of interesting patterns and increasingly complex moves over the top as their flips  become ever more impressive.

Markin is a three member troupe from Russia that works on the rola bola.  In many ways it was certainly  the most novel act of the festival. All three participants are dressed as white clowns.  The woman is in a tutu and white powdered wig.  Their music is taken from Fellini films, the theme of the act being a homage to the Italian filmmaker and its objective is to conjure the nostalgic atmosphere of a Fellini film.  The unique aspect of the act is that the rola bola board is rarely set on a firm foundation.  Once it is on the up-raised feet of the understander or porter as he lies on his stomach.  Then it is on his back. Then on his head and finally raised above his head by his arms supporting a head stand.  Eventually the trio goes to three high.  Finally the porter, still on the rola bola, supports a perch pole on his head with a head stand performed above.

The Giang Brothers from Vietnam, a country rarely represented in these international competitions, presented a very impressive hand balancing act that concluded with a head to head stand walking down a flight of about six stairs, which when completed was reversed and they went back up backwards.  The act is aptly named “The Strength of the Arms.”

Among those acts which I had seen before but were happily reunited with included, my favorite, the Beijing Acrobatic Troupe in a dazzling display of hoop jumping that I had seen previously in China and on YouTube.  I love their style and precision; there is not a moment or a move in the entire routine that is not considered, refined and controlled, and all of it performed to perfection by the eighteen member troupe, every one of whom moves beautifully.  It is a complete package: dramatic movement, stirring music all combined with incredible skill, the latter revealed through their many variations of leaps.  To make matters even more interesting  remote controlled props, as versatile as the acrobats themselves, cause the hoops to spin and revolve as the acrobats pass through them.  Their performance concludes with a solo leap of three meters (almost ten feet), a Guinness book record.

The most sensational act in the festival was presented by the returning North Koreans, from Cirque Pyongyang, which sent one of their astonishing flying acts.  This one had three catchers and three flyers, two of whom were women.  With a catcher at each end and the middle as well, a single flight often consisted of four catches before the flyer returned to his or her version of a fly bar.  The flights from one end began with giant swings around the fixed bar, while those at the other end began with the flyer being swung  and then thrown into the air by a catcher in a sling.  The most amazing flights were those in which the flyer had to rise up to meet the arms of the catcher.  The male flyer completed a triple pirouette before being snatched out of the air.  One of the females completed a quad at the performance I saw, and the other woman did two triples between two catchers in a single flight.

The North Koreans normally walk off with the gold and seemed destined to do so again here, but in their second appearance, there were several misses and the girl who did the triple/triple required three tries before she completed the trick.  Perhaps as a result of this the troupe took only silver and their displeasure was dramatically evident at the banquet when the winners were announced.

A second unit from the combined Beijing Acrobatic Troupe, this one eleven women manipulating diabolos, helped the Chinese take the gold, which they shared with Duo Shcherbak and Popov. Beautifully costumed, with head pieces sporting long pheasant feathers, the women presented a dizzyingly complex display with so much action it is almost more than one could take in.  The charming choreography and the variety of tricks came at us fast and furiously, a veritable ballet, with some very theatrically amazing catches.  I first encountered this troupe about ten years ago at the Paris festival, and at that time noted the frozen smiles each of the women wore.  Those fixed smiles are still there having changed not one iota in all that time.

And then there was a display of a skill rarely seen in American any more, presented here by the Donnert Family of bareback riders.  Nicely attired in folk costumes, they showed both a forward and backward flip on a single horse, and then another back flip from horse to horse.   The troupe’s big tricks consisted first of four men landing aboard their mount standing after a series of running leaps.  This was topped by the four men and one woman landing astride from scissor leaps.   All in all it was a very pleasant act rarely seen anymore.

Many other acts won a silver or bronze clown or received special awards, but failed to register very positively with me.  Among these were two different sets of clowns, the Equivokee Trio from the Ukraine who had something of the Three Stooges to their work and the American duet Bella and Alex Cher.  Neither of these clown troupes, each one of which presented several comic turns in separate programs, delivered any great laughter, but somehow the Equivokee won a Bronze Clown.

The Navas family presented two thrill acts, first on the highwire and later on the Wheel of Death. Their turn on the highwire was a pretty standard routine, four men working on two wires set at different heights.   For their closing trick one of the four men was seated on a cross bar between two others, and at mid-point rose to a standing position on the chair.  Two of the four who also worked the wheel ended that act with a series of forward flips on the outside of the wheel at its apex.

Several performers from Spain’s Cirque Mundial presented two different animal acts.  First three women and a single male presented horses in beautiful trappings performing haute ecole in the Spanish style, using the long staff or Garrocha, which was interestingly incorporated into their riding patterns.  One of the horses also executed the most effective alternating front leg flicks I have ever seen.  Although the group presented a very attractive picture, especially when cantering, it was not very exciting, sorry to say, and perhaps such a display never will be seen as such  again.

The same people presented three elephants in two different displays, the first presented by Aurori Papadopulo.  This was an extremely predictable act, offered up with little in the way of pizzazz.  In their second appearance when female riders were added, the act had more sparkle.  This appearance opened with two horses and two bulls doing movements that were mirror images of each other.

Upholding the festival’s tradition of presenting as many different animal acts as possible, was Kid Bauer’s mixed cage act.  His animals consisted of one male lion, one tiger, and nine female lions.  The act opened with poses on the many tiered furniture.   In one of these the females all lounge about looking like Saturday night at the local bar, after which the tiger leapt over the entire lot of them,  a distance of five meters or more than sixteen feet.  The act concluded in a frenzy as the entire pack of animals went leaping over two fences as they raced around the cage.   The animals were cued exclusively by voice commands, and when one lioness repeatedly balked at walking on her hind legs, she was given her treat anyway and allowed to return to her seat without further ado.  This happened at the three different performances I saw of this act.

In the canine department we had Pat Clarrison’s four dogs, all of whom are quite yappy but certainly enthusiastic performers as well. One was especially hyper.  The boundlessly playful act was sprinkled with humorous moments, especially in another sort of the frenzied chase, this one around the ring, over hurdles, through tunnels and in and out of baskets.

One  act that won a Silver Clown was a double Russian barre act give by the Grechushkin, a troupe of four men and two female flyers.  Like so many contemporary acts, this one opens with some poorly executed dance moves, especially from the men, to some rather jazzy music.  The girls are quite good flyers, one of them executing a triple, which did require spotters to keep her on the bar.  Otherwise the most interesting aspect of the act was the movement of the flyers between the two sets of bars.  The act is a product of the Nikulin Circus of Moscow, a connection that may have helped them win silver.

American audiences have seen Anait Seyranyan, the American equilbrist, before at both Circus Sarasota and the Big E Super Circus, and I have also seen her in other competitions.  Her startling specialty is her shoulder dislocations while rotating her body in a full, uninterrupted circle.  She also appeared a second time in an alternate program with her sister.  This appearance was  a one trick act, but an impressive one at that.  Both of them fold themselves into a 16 inch cube at the same time. The fun is seeing the second one get in atop her sister.  The girls received a standing ovation, probably for completing what otherwise would seem impossible.

The only tissue or silk act in the entire festival was presented by Maria Shemyakina.  At this point in the development of the contemporary circus one has to wonder why she even bothered.  Audiences, here especially, are tired of this kind of act, having seen more than enough.  This one begins with the seemingly obligatory erotic dancing with two boys who disappear once the girl is taken aloft and does everything expected of her.   All her movements are accompanied by a heavy throbbing music sounding very much like a heart beat, presumably to suggest that something dramatic was going on, when in fact it was not.

I’m not quite sure what the Juggling Troupe of Cirque de Kazan was doing in this festival.  All of the participants in this act seemed much too young and inexperienced to qualify for what is essentially a showcase of well established artists.  The club passing of the eight young boys and one girl was not at a very high level of skill.  To add a bit of flash to a rudimentary display, the act ended in a black-lite blizzard of air borne clubs, and finally a rapid-fire fifteen plate toss.

Daramis and Daylis was a second act from Cuba.  Their hair hanging aerials received the coolest reception of any act in the festival.  In contrast to the other acts this one looked tacky, the least artful act in the entire lineup.

Meshchanov Trio, three guys from Rosgoscirk, worked on modified Roman rings, short bars in a triangular shape.  Their best moment was a three high handstand one above the other on a single set of lines.  Their costumes with the ballooning pant legs detracted from the perfect lines of which gymnasts are usually so proud.

And finally, by way of adding a bit of spice and helping to fill in stage waits for rigging changes were the Minsk dancers, ten girls from Belarus in a series of outrageous costume with undistinguished choreography.  In each program’s finale they appeared in the plumage of birds usually found in Las Vegas, rather  than Monte Carlo, although it is the latter words that their harnesses spelled say when they were fully electrified.

 

 

 

PALMARES DU XXXVIIe FESTIVAL INTERNATIONAL

DU CIRQUE DE MONTE-CARLO

 

DU PRIX ATTRIBUES PAR LE JURY

PRÉSIDÉ PAR S.A.S. LA PRINCESSE STEPHANIE:

CLOWN D’OR

La Troupe nationale acrobatique de Pékin pour ses deux numéros

Duo Shcherbak & Popov

CLOWN D’ARGENT

Voltige aérienne du Cirque de Pyongyang

Troupe Grechushkin

Navas Brothers

Leosvel et Diosmani

Koblykov

Jean-François Pignon

CLOWN DE BRONZE

Gran Circo Mundial pour l’ensemble des numéros

Le Trio Markin

Kid Bauer

Cat-Wall

Famille Donnert

Equivokee

 

PRIX DU PUBLIC: Cat-Wall

COUPE EN MEMOIRE DE LA PRINCESSE ANTOINETTE (au plus jeune artiste du Festival): Marsel Nugametzanov (14 ans)

PRIX SPECIAUX: TROPHEE LOUIS MERLIN: Daramis et Daylis

PRIX DE LA VILLE DE MONACO: Giang Brothers

PRIX DE L’ASSOCIATION MONEGASQUE DES AMIS DU CIRQUE: Duo Shcherbak & Popov

PRIX DU JOURNAL NICE-MATIN: Koblykov

PRIX TMC MONTE-CARLO: Jean-François Pignon

PRIX SPECIAL DU BLACKPOOL TOWER CIRCUS: Pat Clarrison et ses chiens

PRIX DE LA REVUE “LE CIRQUE DANS L’UNIVERS”: Kid Bauer

PRIX MONTE-CARLO SOCIETE DES BAINS DE MER HOTELS & CASINOS: Cat-Wall

PRIX DE LA SOCIETE DES AUTEURS, COMPOSITEURS ET EDITEURS DE MUSIQUE – SACEM: Les Soeurs Seyranyan

PRIX SPECIAL SPENCER HODGE: Jean-François Pignon

PRIX ERICH ROZEWICZ: Leosvel et Diosmani

PRIX SPECIAL Z.P.R. DE VARSOVIE: Gran Circo Mundial

PRIX DU FAIRMONT MONTE-CARLO: Meschanov

PRIX SPECIAL MARSUPILAMI: Kid Bauer

PRIX SPECIAL EMILIEN BOUGLIONE: Famille Donnert

PRIX DU CIRQUE D’HIVER BOUGLIONE: Kid Bauer

PRIX SPECIALGESELLSCHAFT DER CIRCUSFREUNDE E.V. (Association des Amis du Cirque d’Allemagne): Famille Donnert

PRIX DES AMIS DU CIRQUE ITALIEN: Le Ballet du Cirque de Minsk

PRIX SPECIAL DU STUDIO GRIMAILO MOSCOU: Koblykov

PRIX SPECIAL DE L’EUROPEAN CIRCUS ASSOCIATION (E.C.A.): La Troupe Grechushkin

PRIX SPECIAL DU CONSEIL NATIONAL: Arevik Seyranyan

PRIX SPECIAL ARLETTE GRUSS: Les Giang Brothers

PRIX DU JURY JUNIOR INTERNATIONAL HSBC: Les Diabolos du Cirque de Pékin

PRIX SPECIAL JEROME MEDRANO: Club-House

PRIX SPECIAL JOSE MARIA GONZALES VILLA JUNIOR: Kid Bauer

PRIX DU CIRQUE NIKULIN MOSCOU: Cat-Wall

PRIX SPECIAL STARDUST CIRCUS INTERNATIONAL: La voltige aérienne du Cirque de Pyongyang

PRIX SPECIAL MOIRA ORFEI: Leosvel et Diosmani

PRIX SPECIAL GANDEY: Equivokee

PRIX BOLCHOI CIRCUS – GRAND CIRQUE D’ETAT DE MOSCOU: Les Sauteurs aux cerceaux du Cirque de Pékin

PRIX KOBSOV CIRCUS: Les Navas

PRIX DU ROSGOSCIRK: Shcherbak & Popov

PRIX DU FESTIVAL DE LA JEUNESSE – MOSCOU: Equivokee

PRIX SPECIAL DE LATINA: La Troupe de Jongleurs du Cirque de Kazan

PRIX SPECIAL ITSVAN KRISTOFF: Les Markin

PRIX DE L’ASSOCIATION DES ACROBATES DE CHINE: Duo aérien du Cirque de Pyongyang

PRIX SPECIAL ZAPASHNYY: Jean-François Pignon