The Passing Spectacle Vol. III, No. 7

The Big Apple Circus’ Metamorphosis Lacks Momentum


When intermission time came at the Big Apple Circus’ new production Metamorphosis, it felt as if nothing had happened up to that point. Of course plenty had; there was the trampoline act that was incorporated into the opening charivari presented by the Aniskin Troupe, two girls curled themselves up into a two foot cube, Jenny Vidbel brought out her barnyard revue and finally there was the Anastasini Bros. risley act followed by their father and mother Giovanni Anastasini and Irene Espana with their aerial spaceship, The problem is that they were all interspersed with appearances by clown Francesco whose laid back, homemade performance, tended by its very lack of excitement, to wash away the impression of anything that had gone before.
His multiple appearances are a problem throughout the show because they keep it from ever developing any steam or maintaining any sense of accelerating pace that produces a sense of rising action. Overall, therefore, it is a performance of fits and starts, and one that reminds us why other circus productions have tended, more and more, to abjure the revue style of presentation which forces the performance to keep starting anew with each new act.
This is a problem because there are some very good acts in the show: The Aniskin Troupe in particular whose sense of style and grace I have always admired whenever they appear with the Big Apple as they have twice before. I have always been impressed with the balletic style of flyer Aleksey Voitenko, and this time out his beautiful form is matched by Alexey Maximov whose returns are easily as exciting and impressive as his flying.
The wonderful sense of controlled styling is also evident in all the Anastasini family acts. The brother’s Fabio and Giuliano , risley act is surely the fastest paced act in the show and the pacing is matched by the precision and skill incorporated by these young artists in their work, all of which combines to produce a very exciting performance. They are joined by their father and mother in a stylish diabolo act and the parents provide a wonderful exhibition from whence this style emanates in an aerial display that is both spectacular and daring.
This is obviously a performance in which the various artists are expected to display a variety of skills. Tateuik, for instance, is one half of the duo in the cube. She also presents a rather funky rola bola act that is more amusing than daring, which is also the case with Jennifer Vidbel’s odd collection of “exotic” animals and her liberty act with camels and horses, later augmented by ponies and llamas.
As for the metamorphosis of the title it is almost as casual as Francesco’s performance. Most of the magic tricks are more or less  underplayed as if they were throw away lines. The one genuinely spectacular bit of legerdemain is provided by the quick change artists of the Smirnov Duo, whom I have seen many time before. Here there seems be more changes than I recall from past performances.
One final note regards someone or something billed as “Bubbles Galore” (Nadine Delan-Brunard). In the performance I saw this feature made a brief appearance that looked as if it was all a mistake, so I have no idea what it is all about, although we did catch a glimpse of a woman who was indeed encapsulated in a very large bubble.
Rob Slowik’s musical aggregation keeps the proceedings as lively and energetic as possible whenever they could with everything from Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” to Gustav Holzt ‘s Jupiter from The Planets.
Ringmaster John Kennedy Kane usually provides a highly amusing change of pace with his dry brand of humor, but here, given the relaxed tone established whenever Francesco is on, there is seldom a need for him to provide his usual comic relief. Nonetheless he did get in one delicious ad-lib that really cracked me up.
The show has been directed by West Hyler, Todd Rosenthal is the scenic designer and the costumes are by Mirena Rada. Howell Binkley is the lighting designer. Choreographer is Antoinette Dipietropolo, Magic illusions have been created by Jim Steinmeyer.


Serendipity in the Bronx: Circo Hermanos Vazquez

Turns Out to Be a Revelation.

As I have said before on all too rare occasions one of the greatest joys of my job is making unexpected discoveries. These surprises always seems to come when least expected, for instant what happened on a recent weekend when I had arranged to see Steve Copeland and Ryan Combs working their new gig with Circo Hermanos Vazquez. I have been following the careers of these two young men ever since I first met Ryan as a teenager with Circus Smirkus. So my expectations were entirely centered on seeing what the change in venue had meant to this pair of traditional, red-nosed American clowns.
They did not make their first entrance until several of the acts had already had their time in the ring. By the time they appeared I was already mightily impressed with the style and first rate artistry of what preceded them. The surprise was all the more powerful given that this show markets itself almost exclusively to an Hispanic population, and does so with great success.
As it turns out Circo Hermanos Vazquez is far more than a niche production. The lineup of features within its classy performance was one top line act after another, all of which were presented with great style, panache and beautiful costumes. The features were supported by a quintet of gorgeous showgirls, who made their way through some novel choreography, a live band and state of the art production values. I haven’t been this excited about a new show since the Circus Fans took in a brilliant production in Mexico.
This is a show that really belongs in the top echelon of American circuses. Insofar as skill level of each act, presented by an array of international stars it easily falls within the top three or four American circuses. And it’s performed in a ring under a big, handsome big top. How many circuses can match or top that?
The only element that sets it apart as a niche product is the talking clown Carmelo, whose repartee with the ringmaster is conducted entirely in Spanish with obviously hilarious results, judging by the enormous reaction of the almost exclusively Hispanic audience in the Bronx.
And then, of course, there is Ryan Combs and Steve Copeland. In these surroundings they have never looked better. They make three appearances, one of which is a major production number. The others are designed to help cover some rigging changes, but each has a great blow-off sight gag. Their major production is swift, slick and handsomely produced with some new props and scenic elements all of which helps put their current work far above what they were able to do on the mud shows from which they recently graduated, and the results have never been more satisfying to them and their audiences, who obviously love their slapstick comedy, which is in huge contrast to the talking clown who is wisely scheduled late in the show. Together the two styles of comedy make for an ideal situation in which the show has its comedy from the best of both worlds, . physical vs. verbal.
The roster of featured acts is another element that sets this show apart from others. The proceedings begin with Alexa Vazquez, the youngest female member of the family, and her hula hoop act, but the real excitement begins an act later when the Azzario Sisters take the ring. Their hand to hand, head to head balancing act is exquisitely choreographed, and they and their work are elegantly impressive, each maneuver completed with a perfect balance of skill and beauty.
High in the apex of the big top the aerial motorcycle act of Visan and Zheni Espana is visually arresting and topped off by a terrific finale in which both the cyclist and his partner at the other end of the rigging are simultaneously airborne turning somersaults and spinning wildly. Their huge rigging is struck and removed with amazing dispatch.
Another knock-out performance is contributed by foot juggler Klaudie Legronova Bremlov. Her work is extraordinarily exciting visually. Talk about hand to eye co-ordination. Bremlov adds eye to foot and hands in a routine so complex it almost impossible to follow. And once again presented, like the sisters, with appealing elegance.
A big liberty horse display with four black and four white Arabians was presented by Aldo Vazquez, the youngest of the Vazquez brothers. The same elegant style prevails here as well, an Intricate series of maneuvers accomplished with almost imperceptible cues and great dignity from the presenter, the very model of ideal composure as described by Antony Hippisley Coxe in A Seat at the Circus .
I have seen the three blond women aptly billed as Trio Bellisimo several times before meeting up with them here where they remain as amazing as ever. They build a series of balanced poses through contortion that tests one’s credulity. But they are indeed the real thing.
The flying act, billed simply as the Flying Heroes, dressed in the most understated, least flashy costumes I have ever seen on a flying act, make up for all that with the daring and precision of their flying and use of a complicated rigging that allows drops and catches on several levels. They also complete a triple most impressively.
There is also a frantically paced diabolo act offered by David Confal, a fairly ordinary dog act, disguised by its handsome costumes, presented by the Pompeyo Family and a Russian swing which is not one of my favorite acts anywhere. Add to all this a quintet of dancing girls decked out in spectacular feathers and day-glo costumes, and you have a spectacular production.


Midnight Circus in the Parks Brings Everyone into the Ring

by Kim Campbell


It was a crisp fall afternoon at Independence Park on Chicago’s West Side, but the small blue and purple tent was warm because it was packed with hundreds of children, their parents in-tow. The Midnight Circus crew was on the 6th stop out of an 8 park tour of Chicago’s park districts. The children enjoyed the front row floor seating with some of the more limber parents. My family and I chose the bleachers not far from our congressman Mike Quigley who had come to be present when the good news was announced by State Representative Jaime Andrade that Independence Park would be getting a new playground, thanks in large part to the Midnight Circus and their fund raising efforts over the years. The crowd roared its approval.
The show began with a warm moment children and their parents could relate to as Ringmaster Jeff Jenkins opened up a big book to tell his 6-year-old daughter Samantha, also a performer, a bedtime story. It was a pop-up book featuring Chicago and its many facets. Before any words were spoken the book came to life and the events unfolded in real time, starting with a little blues number that involved the whole cast dancing and some acrobatics to liven things up.
Chicago’s own Javin Ulambyayar, a second generation circus performer, began with a solo act on straps that emphasized the strength and poise required for such a discipline. His act was facilitated by Olivia Weinstein, Midnight Circus’ hilarious clown figure who provided the fog machine and the appropriate level of adoration for Javin’s skills and bared torso. Her presence was felt throughout the whole show along with fellow clown Sam Brown as they drummed up enthusiasm from the crowd, poked fun at the performers and generally kept the bond with the audience’s many children very strong. The little kids who didn’t have the attention span for the artistic acts had their eyes riveted on the duo, awaiting the next comedic romp. Javin’s act inspired at least one little girl though. She was on an outing with her dad. As Javin began to spin in a wide arc on his strap high up in the air she could be heard behind us shouting “Fly! Fly!” as she held out her arms as if she too was flying.
The lovely hooping artist Aerial Emery appeared next with her signature rapid and confounding style of hooping on multiple hoops. She too was assisted by the clowns who watched in awe. At the end, Olivia even snuck on to give her own attempt at a graceful hoop act (disguising herself with a red wig to appear even more Aerial-like)which became complicated by her lack of experience, to the mirth of all who saw it.
Sam sought out a young volunteer from the audience for a clown-driven stunt involving marshmallows, which led to a rousing beatbox session from the DJ My Boy Elroy who was displayed loftily just above the street art graffiti style logo of the Midnight Circus.
All of this lively fun continued to keep the crowd awake and ready for the next performance by the lovely 11-year-old Regina Meirmanov, 2nd generation circus artist and daughter of Nourbol and Svetta Meirmanov of MSA Circus Arts in Chicago. Regina’s beautiful act on the lyra demonstrated such grace and poise that the audience was mesmerized, especially the children who watched as if they were taking notes on how a person as young as themselves is capable of such things.
Midnight Circus newcomers and recent graduates from the National Circus School in Montreal, Dominic Cruz and Marta Henderson (of 7 Fingers family) performed a rousing duo acrobatic number jumping through mounted hoops with stunts that became increasingly impossible and impressive.
Another fun act that got the crowd riled up was an inter-generational squabble over today’s rap music versus parent’s rap music with ringmaster Jeff and his daughter Samantha.
Tightrope artists Ariel Ebacher and Abby Suskin soon took to the wire as an energized duo, taking turns and outdoing one another with a spirit of camaraderie until they wrapped up their act by donning respectively a pair of ballet toe shoes and a pair of high heels to walk the wire.
One of the many charms of Midnight Circus is how it appeals to people of multiple generations and backgrounds through the variety of its acts. This was demonstrated as the multi-talented Matt Roben of the Chicago Contemporary Circus Festival led a lively musical mash-up on accordion with fellow cast members on mandolin, ukulele and trumpet, followed by the dapper juggler Book Kennison who gave us an entertaining look at his juggling and contortion feats combined so that at one point he was juggling behind his own back. Yolanta Birkhane’s cord’lisse performance was powerful and fierce with dramatic drops that did not go under fog machined by Olivia either. Matt then took on the acrobatic art of chair stacking with a little assistance from his clowning companions and a balloon. Another new duo, Kia Eastman and Lindsay Culbert-Olds, recent graduates from the National Circus School of Montreal, performed their powerful duo trapeze act with flawless execution and some unique stunts.
Finally, Ringmaster Jeff and his beloved dog Junebug had an act that was reminiscent of the old lion tamer routines of the big tops. When Junebug was first released from her cage we saw the classic muscular pit bull exit and begin barking as Jeff shrank in pantomimed terror from her, running around the rink and appealing for help from the audience. Jeff tentatively offered Junebug his hat, which she gleefully tore up. As the act progressed it became clear that all Junebug needed was a little challenge to tame her. Soon she was dancing, jumping through hoops and shaking paws quite loveably, demonstrating to us all what great pets well-trained pit bulls are.
Jeff and Samantha finished up their circus story with dad pushing daughter on the swing until she got some fancy ideas about trying out the trapeze herself, perhaps inspired by the duo that preceded her and again the children in the audience were easily transfixed by the sight of a young girl swinging and twirling on the trapeze.
The finale, like last year, ended with a big dance party where all were invited to come in to the circus ring, but not until the entire cast showed off their jump rope skills, which would put any jump roper to shame under normal circumstances what with the acrobatics and juggling added to the jumping. It ended on such a high note that families left with exhausted but bouncy children eager to try out their own tricks. In the case of Midnight Circus in the Parks, this tends to lead families over to the park playground to let off some steam and work on their circus skills. The Midnight Circus has raised over 800 thousand dollars in recent years for Chicago Park District improvements, which is a mission of great value to Chicagoans, but it also brings the circus to them, which has a value with far reaching benefits that are more difficult to define.