Passing Spectacle Vol. V, No. 3



Camille Boitel’s L’Immédiat Takes Us Into a Dark and Malevolent World

LImmediate,957, by Ian Douglas

According to Camille Boitel and company we live in a precarious world in which even inanimate objects are engaged in a conspiracy to knock us off our feet and keep us forever unbalanced.

It takes place in an apartment in which a solo figure (he cannot be called a character for he has no persona to speak of) falls apart, thanks to some cleverly devised props.  In fact it is all about props rather than people.  Physical objects, often of our own making ironically,  are the real the antagonists of the world. Things that make up our physical world seem to be in a conspiracy against us, making us constantly fall on our faces.  All of this is illustrated in the context of a mounting crescendo of furniture coming apart, objects falling from the sky, crashing to the ground in ever heavier doses  of debris and noise, one physical disaster after another.  Some of which, occasionally creates an amusing sight gag.

No doubt this sounds quite fascinating on the page, as it must have to the people who created this work.   On the stage is another matter.  It is repetitive, overly long, and often off puttingly random, arbitrary, nightmarish, surreal, and most damning of all, overly long.  We got the message in the first 20 minutes of this 70 minute exercise in over stating your case.

When at last all of this extravagant detritus litters the entire stage, its accumulation is followed by a frenetically energetic clean up as props are swept or thrown into the wings or upstage, some of it landing in the audience. I was hit by an errant pillow, unaware of its approach as I was taking notes.

Camille Boitel, I'Immediat, 4270, by Ian DouglasOnce cleared, the stage is set with a few pieces of furniture, most notably an upright cabinet with two doors out through which persons come and go, as in some mad farcical unending chase. Movable curtains or screens help to produce unexpected appearances or disappearances. It is important to note that the seven member company never assumes any definable character.  They are merely bodies that are thrown about as freely as all those break away props in the first sequence.  They are all dressed more or less alike, in baggy underwear and or large fur coats with hoods that rob them of any identity,  One wonders what special skill or talent beyond a willingness to subject themselves to some rather violent physical abuse was sought in casting the ensemble.

The action grows increasingly violent with one or more of the figures tortured and apparently killed. This production was listed as appropriate for children three years and up, but I would think it would be most disturbing and even nightmare inducing to young children and not a few adults.

A third and final section shows the world atilt. One character is propped up sometimes ingeniously so that his body is always slightly tilted.  Thankfully this is one of the shorter sections of the show.

And finally all that detritus is dragged out again and stacked in a pyramid with impressive speed and efficiency. Beneath the garbage heap one of the cast appears to be buried alive.  Have fun kids.

All of this makes its point that our lives are pretty precarious affairs long before it has finished hitting us over the head with that idea.

Photos by Ian Douglas


Carnival of the Animals, Musically Inspiring

Circa is a new circus company (if I may use that term) comes out of Australia. It has been winning adherents around the globe. Like so many such companies it began as a rather smallish group of friends with a common sense of what a circus should be, which, again like so many others,   had to do with the poetic, story-telling  possibilities, they believed, were  inherent in the interaction of acrobatic bodies.

As the company’s popularity grew and demand for their work came to exceed what the original company could meet, it grew in numbers and that growth, it would seem, demanded the recruitment of younger and younger members, fresh out of one of the national circus schools that keep producing new artists around the world.

I say “it would seem” because I have no documented proof beyond what I am seeing of Circa’s work in various venues and engagements. The most recent example of their work was in a production called Carnival of the Animals, based on the suite of music of the same name by Camille Saint-Saën.  It was presented as part of a series produced by the Brooklyn Academy of Music, which was directed toward the youngest of audiences.  The work was directed by Yaron Lifschitz.

Judging by this performance as offered the seven member company, the skill level was rather rudimentary, at least insofar as circus skills are concerned. The skills exhibited each in very brief segments that tended not to develop or rise to a more complicated level included hoop diving, juggling, both solo and passing, box juggling, aerial silks, trapeze, jump rope, and tumbling galore,  ad infinitum.  The lack of expertise did not seem dictated by the story being enacted but rather by the limitations of the company.

It is aimed at children and includes numerous animal impersonations some of which involve circus skills and others that do not, but all would be easily recognizable to children and many could even be duplicated in large part by young kids.  The obvious intent in presenting this show to young audiences is to Inspire their creativity.

It is all quite charming, the individual cast members are all likeable and engaging, but I do wish the performance could have displayed a higher level of circus. I have always been of the opinion that  if a show entertains adults it could also delight and be appreciated by children.  It doesn’t have to be played down to them.

In a way it seemed as though this were Circa’s junior varsity, a secondary company of still developing artists in much the same way that many of the most successful ballet companies ensure their longevity.

If the skill level was disappointing, the visual aspect of the performance was entirely delightful for adults as well as children, often providing the most interest. The visual display was the creation of Michaela French. I didn’t much care for the costuming, which while not totally unisex ,did strive to make the design consistent for both the men and women, and in so doing was not very flattering to the men.

As I have said the action was mostly performed to the “Carnival of the Animals” suite. Interestingly in 1951 John Murray Anderson who was then staging Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus considered using this music and its theme for the major spec, which happened to be the year the show was filmed by Cecil B. DeMille.  He opted instead for “A Circus Serenade,” using familiar melodies to inspire various units of the spec.   I think he made a wise choice.  The music is rather limiting, and in this production inspires rather predictable responses.



Bello Dares to be Real

Bello16 MS015

Bello Mania, which ran for most of the month of April at the New Victory Theatre just off Times Squarein New York City is a case in point that I have often made regarding the quality of entertainment designed for children.  That point being if a show entertains adults it could also delight and be appreciated by children.  A very high level of  skill and production values were very much in evidence, and the kids who filled the theatre at an early matinee were obviously rapt, as fully engaged as it is possible to be.

If memory serves, this is the third version of Bello Mania that I have seen in New York, and each version was produced especially for the New Victory engagement.  It was not something that Bello and Jennifer Nock brought in after first having shown it somewhere else.   Although many of the same skills we have come to associate with Bello are here, each is presented in a new way, and it is all spun together like an irresistible cotton candy treat.

The point to be made here is that Bello and Co. do not keep running the same tired routines and acts before us like so many other circus performers do.  They continue to create new thrills and delights , and the freshness inherent in such an approach to performance makes for some wonderful surprises, which, after all, is what we always seek in our entertainment.

The show starts off with an act I have not seen Bello perform before. In it he eventually disappears inside a huge balloon he has blown up.  The laughs produced by this sight gag are some of the most hearty in a show that is never less than comically rich.

The theme of this year’s show is magic, and if ever there was a magical show this is it.  It not only amazes us with its failed magic, but delights with its charmingly concocted surprises, which include the invisible dog, and a piece of magic  involving multiplying chairs that is brilliantly fitted to the music “Sorcerer’s Apprentice.”

In this ninety minute charmer Bello is joined by three other performers, his daughter Annaliese who works on the high wire and aerial lyra, the juggler Michael Karas whose style is a perfect match for this particular show, and finally the droll host Dinny McGuire whose underplayed interludes with Bello have a wonderful intimate style instead of the usual phony bravura.Bello16 MS009

In an arena Bello tends to deliver the broadest of performances, but here in the intimate confines of this jewel box theatre, he could almost be accused of underplaying. No wonder the kids adore him, he seems like a favorite uncle who always has some delightful trick up his sleeve.   The daredeviltry is played down until the closing moments of the show when Bello climbs the sway pole which is planted literally in the laps of the audience.  But really it isn’t the daring of the climb or its precipitous swaying that delights the kids.  It is his attempts at retrieving a balloon that has floated to the theatre’s ceiling.

For that balloon to get there, by the way, Bello does something even more daring than all of the daredevil stunts for which he is justifiably famous.  He discards the clown persona and speaks in his own, natural  voice to deliver a movingly sincere speech about his family’s heritage.  I can’t think of any other clown, but for Red Skelton who has ever been able to pull that bit of stage magic off at all, no less as convincingly as Bello does.  It turns out to be the introduction to a final piece of magic, the afore mentioned balloon and his climb to the top of the sway pole.  It is all the kind of magical moment that only live entertainment can produce.

And then of course there is Annaliese with Shawn Roth on the highwire and her solo on the aerial lrya, and the juggling of Michael Karas, both of which provide pleasant changes of pace without taking anything away from the overall effect. Karas adds a bit of novelty of his own by juggling with a hand puppet. Annaliese by the way  is glamourosly costumed by Kay Torralva and Wriic’s Costume Arts

As always this Bello Mania has been written and directed with the deftest touch by another member of the family, Jennifer Nock, whose contributions in turning all this into a seamless confection are nothing short of indispensable.

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Circo de la Luna Mixes Metaphors (and Styles)


Here’s a challenge for you. Try putting together a Flamenco dancer and her accompanying musicians, a collection of aerial acts (silks, hammock, lyra), a pair of contortionists and a physical comedian into something that resembles a unified whole.  That is what Tamara Topaz has attempted to do in a concoction she calls Circo de la Luna.  Even with the help of director Mark Lonergan the ingredients have defied coalescing into an entertainment that makes sense from one moment to another.

The biggest problem the creators have faced is having those moments when Sonia Olla and her flamenco ensemble are not on stage come anywhere near to matching the passion and artistry that is generated when she is. Almost everyone else in the cast seems pretty bland in comparison.  The few exceptions are when others get to interact with her.  Angelo Iodice is one of the lucky ones who gets to play his boleadoras off her smoldering looks, and Mark Gindick finally gets to dance with her in a parody of flamenco that is almost as fiery as the real thing Olla has been pounding into our brains all night long most sensationally.

Olla makes three different, extended appearances during the show, so she dominates it insofar as time on stage is concerned as well as in every other way possible. She is costumed differently for each appearance, but beyond that it is difficult for one not an aficionado the catch the subtle differences in the choreography to fully appreciate what each of the dances mean.  All we know for sure is that she works up a frenzy in each that seems rooted in some dark recesses of her obviously tempestuous  heart.

Contrast this to Gindick’s familiar kissing booth, some rather tame aerial work and undistinguished contortion and you can see the near impossibility of putting these disparate elements into a show that makes some sense as it moves from moment to moment. To further disorient us the program book contains a narrative which seems to indicate we are in the realm of physical theater,  but the action makes little sense as narrated and even less when performed.   The overriding problem  is that this is not pure physical theatre; but then neither is it circus, or pure dance.   And as a hybrid it lacks any kind of connecting tissue.