The Passing Spectacle Vol. V – No. 8

Cirque’s Revised Paramour Improves  But Will Move On

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In my original review of Paramour I said it was a show that seemed to have everything.  Upon seeing it again after its having gone through some extensive revisions I would revise that statement to say that there is only one thing missing, and that is passion.  You would think that in a plot involving a love triangle and in a show named Paramour that there would be some passion exhibited by the three main characters.  Oddly enough there is not even a whiff of passion, sexual or emotional in the characters’ interactions with each other.  It all seems rather superficial and even rather sexless.

Nonetheless I must report that after the show’s brief hiatus during which it made some significant changes to what has been put on stage, Paramour is presently definitely different from what it was when it first opened.  And what is more the differences have even made it somewhat better in certain aspects.  For one thing the dialogue is no longer cringe-worthy and at times even manages to be self-mocking, which indicates it isn’t taking itself all that seriously.

The most telling difference is in the character of the young song writer who is one leg of the triangle noted above in this watered down variation of A Star is Born.  His character, as well as the role, has been expanded so that Ryan Vona now gets to do more singing and even some dancing and acrobatics.  He isn’t quite so lost in the shuffle as he once was.

But distracting us from the central characters is more or less the show’s modus operandi. Nary a soloist gets to sing a song without his or her vocalizing being backed up by some hectic acrobatic action.  One such moment elicits one of those self-mocking lines I referred to earlier.  The fascinating thing about such staging is that the upstage circus tends to be more interesting than the downstage narrative.

If there is any passion at all in the show it is in the performances of some of the circus acts. Think of the narrative as the transitions that take us from circus act to circus act, each of which is imbued with an unmistakable passion for defining what is extraordinary in their own unique way.

There are now six circus acts given a full-out airing and several others where we catch only vignettes of certain other skills. One of these acts, a pas de deux on a unicycle was not in the show when it first opened. It was moved over from one of Cirque du Soleil’s recent touring shows.  It is nicely integrated into the proceedings and is allowed to run through its entire repertoire.

Only the exciting strap act of the Atherton Twins is given more time and rightly so. It really pulls the audience out of its seats and is certainly the most unique theatrical experience of the show.

I personally found the Korean plank display even more exciting, thanks to its potential for disaster and the daring of the airborne heroics.

An act that seemed more integral to the narrative this time around is Kyle Driggs’ exquisitely visual display of juggling with a red umbrella and numerous large rings. I have been watching Driggs grow artistically since I first saw him in the annual show of the Canadian National Circus a few years ago.  He has polished his presentation to a point where it is now a beautifully choreographed piece that is lighted to perfection and is performed to music provided by a live orchestra, bringing it  about as close as the circus comes to the poetic.

The finale’s extended chase across the rooftops of the city utilizes trampolines to create a circus’s version of a film noire.

A trio whose combination of aerial work and hand balancing is meant to be a physical evocation of the narrative’s love triangle is still one of the dramatic highlights of the show and its most successful effort at having the physicality of the circus speak even more eloquently than the spoken word.

In addition to these acts and the flashes of acrobatics that dart across the stage every so often there are even some attempts at what can only be called clowning that were either not present in the original version or are more prominently displayed in the current iteration.

One maddening feature of the show is that it is cavalier in violating the period in which it is supposed to be set, the Golden Age of Hollywood in the 1930s. Within minutes of the opening, reference is made to Marilyn Monroe and later a good deal of time is wasted re-creating iconic movie posters of all periods.

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Curiously the show’s producers have reacted to the negative response to the show’s book, by promoting it as if it is not really meant to be seen as a Broadway musical. They have removed the show’s inclusion in the so-called theatrical ABC listings, suggesting it is an entirely different sort of entertainment.  It has also abandoned the practice of giving playgoers a Playbill.   I’m not sure where the show is being advertised, but for the occasion TV commercial, but it seems to be working.  On the Tuesday night I saw the show again at the least the orchestra section (and the Lyric is a very big theater with a large lower level) was almost full.

Cirque du Soleil recently announced the show will close in April The reason given for the closing is that the theatre owners want to do major renovations to the venue and gave CDS an offered they couldn’t refuse.  The show has been doing about 60 percent of capacity, even during the normally busy Thanksgiving week.

 

Mother Africa: My Home Delivers Visceral Impact

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Photos by Maike Schulz

The recent feature at the New Victory Theatre on W. 42nd St., New York City was Circus der Sinne’s Mother Africa: My Home. Circus der Sinne was created by Winston Ruddle, a street artist (like those who created Cirque du Soleil).  Before producing the circus he founded  the Hakuna Matata Circus Scool in Kinondoni, Tanzania in 2003.  Later he teamed up with Andre Heller, an international impresario, who, over the years, has brought a variety of exotic entertainments to Broadway.  Together they produced their first circus show Afrika! Afrika!, which Ruddle directed. Three years later with another partner,  Hubert Schober,  Ruddle created Circus der Sinne.  Today Ruddle serves as the company’s director, choreographer, music director and prop designer.

Ruddle’s experience as a break dancer, clown and street performer is most vividly on display in the almost non-stop choreography that energies Mother Africa: My Home, which marks the company’s  tenth anniversary.   There is a great deal of dancing in this show, and it fairly leaps off the stage with an infectious rhythm and energy that is completely irresistible.  The eighteen member ensemble and another nine musicians are hardly ever idle at any time during  show even when solo circus acts are being performed center stage.  The latter are surrounded by the rest of the cast galvanized into constant motion by the drums and rhythm section of the band that literally backs up everything and infects it with a palpable joyful  life force.

The stage is dressed to evoke a poor neighborhood market place of Khayelitsha in South Africa. Above the band various images other sections of the township, from the most modern to the poorest, are projected as the action mutates from one celebration to another.

The music and dance combine a great variety of traditional and modern African culture, a mix, as the program notes would have it, of “cool grooves” and traditional music , break dance and Zulu dance melded into one expression throbbing with life and vitality. Given the heavy percussive beat it is impossible not to feel involved viscerally.  It is almost unimaginable that this company would have the stamina to do more than one show a day, but it does.  I saw the second of two performances and the energy level was remarkable. Not even an intermission proves an impediment to this unflaggingly robust performance

The circus acts are programmed in a somewhat traditional composition in that they grow progressively more impressive and exciting as the show moves along, beginning with a hula hoop presentation by Firehiwot Bayelgn Tefera, that is fairly traditional.  Tefera, however, later works with a male partner in a ball bouncing number that is anything but and is positioned deservedly as the penultimate offering of the production.

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Baraka Ferouz presents a display of unicycle riding that works its way through a variety of these wheeled devices, which grow ever taller before he takes on the tiniest wheel I have ever seen. I have seen lots of small bicycles and unicycles but this was unique in the diminutive size of the wheel.

Mohamed Tadei Mohamed is first seen in a hand balancing act, which while making his way through all the expected maneuvers of this skill with apparent ease gave us nothing new to impress us with. What was impressive about this young man was that he later worked his way through a similarly comprehensive display on the rola bola.

Inevitably there must be some direct audience involvement and this was provided by a solo drummer who managed to get the audience to echo his beats with great enthusiasm.

An impressive display of work on the free standing ladder was presented by Yared Teklu Sheferaw. As with all of the other solo offerings this one was greatly enhanced by the support of the ensemble which infused the display with a level of excitement it would not otherwise have generated.

Abreha Tirhas Gidey presented a first class display of foot juggling, which, given its speed and deftness, provided an unexpected jolt of excitement.

By now we had come to that ball bouncing duo which I alluded to earlier. Abere Alemayehu Debebe and Firehiwot Bayelgn Tefera presented a mind-bogglingly rapid display of a skill that is usually presented by a soloist.  As a duo the level of complexity and skill is elevated beyond even that which this usually impressive skill set demands.  As such it was surely one of the highlights of the circus portion of the production.

A fittingly exciting finale was ultimately provided by a two person team of risley artists. Ayalew Tamrat Yemane sent Alemu Tomas Teka, through a series of breathtakingly rapid revolutions.  In this sort of act it is the speed that is the measure of its skill, and this one was dizzingly fast.

But even after all these acts the cast would not quit and celebrated its collective artistry in an extended segment of song and dance that was as exhilarating an ending as one could hope for in a show like this.