Reviews

REVIEW: The Greatest Showman

Warning: May contain spoilers!

If you have an interest in the circus, you probably know that there isn’t always as much hype around the subject as other sports or activities get, especially in the media. However, the new musical movie “The Greatest Showman,” told the story of mister P.T. Barnum, founder of the Ringling Bros. Barnum and Bailey Circus. The movie brought the viewers through a heartwarming tale of how Barnum brought misfits together, through catchy songs and colorful visuals. The movie tells of Barnum’s want to have an amazing, magical life for him and his family. In the movie, Barnum is portrayed as a fun, inspiring man, but in real life that wasn’t exactly the case.

Barnum was driven to become wealthy and well known. In the movie, his first act towards this goal is the purchase of the American Museum. The movie leaves out altogether his first endeavor, the purchase of a black woman named Joice Heth, who he showcased claiming she was 161 years old. Encouraged by the hype around this impossibly old woman, Barnum then purchased the American Museum in New York City, which contained stuffed and wax animals and “curiosities.” Barnum built on the idea of the strange and unique, bringing in live attractions from all over that had something strange or different about them. Many were fakes and lies like the “Feejee Mermaid,” but others, such as the 25 inch Charles Stratton that we saw in the movie, were quite real.

In “The Greatest Showman,” P.T. Barnum left his museum to go on an American tour with the famous Swedish singer Jenny Lind. This was a part in the movie where we saw his flaws, as Barnum left his friends in order to be a part of a higher social class. Before the tour, Barnum had never heard Lind sing, which proves how desperate he was to be remembered as more than a museum owner. Like in the movie, the tour ended early, but not because of a scandalous relationship between Lind and Barnum. Neither were interested in being more than business partners, but they got in a fight that made Lind want to return home to Europe. After the scandal in the movie, Barnum returned to his friends, realizing he shouldn’t have ever left. In reality, he wasn’t the good man who learned his lesson that Hugh Jackman portrays in The Greatest Showman. Although a few “oddities” were also his friends, like Charles Stratton, Barnum was more obsessed with creating spectacles to the public, and making a name for himself. He got to where he was and became so successful mainly because of his lies and scams. For example, the “Feejee Mermaid,” was a source of attraction that he marketed as a beautiful woman with the tail of a fish, but was actually the head of a monkey sewn onto a fishtail.

In 1865, the American Museum burned down, like in the movie. All the employees escaped and no human lives were lost, but some animals weren’t able to escape, and the museum was unsalvageable. Barnum set out to reopen a new museum within a year of the burning of the first one. However, the new museum was heated using boilers, which were new and not very well tested. The second museum burned down to a boiler explosion in 1868. It wasn’t until the end of his career that Barnum became affiliated with the circus. He was in his sixties when he first teamed up with a traveling show in 1871 that he called “The Greatest Show on Earth,” something you’ve probably heard before. By 1875 he had full ownership of the show, and in 1881 he teamed up with James A. Bailey and James L. Hutchinson from the Great International Circus, to form and manage Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey’s Circus, which is still referred to as “The Greatest Show on Earth” today.

Although the real P.T. Barnum wasn’t the good man we saw in “The Greatest Showman,” he celebrated the odd and the unusual the way we still do in the circus. By creating a museum of things that people hadn’t seen before, he demonstrated the spirit of accepting and praising people for being unique. The movie may have not been one hundred percent accurate, but it honored the beautiful message that we have in the circus today. Every single person is at least a little different, learns a little differently, performs a little differently, or has different strengths. Like the movie demonstrated, we all have a place in the circus because all our strengths and specialties end up fitting together perfectly. As a quote from “The Greatest Showman” says, “No one ever made a difference by being like everyone else.”

– Annika

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REVIEW: A Cirque Nutcracker

A Cirque Nutcracker is the traditional tale with a twist, the original story presented in a humorous new way! A seasonal production at the Mesa Arts Center in Phoenix, AZ featuring Troupe Vertigo and the Phoenix Symphony, one word to describe A Cirque Nutcracker is ‘creative.’ The choreography, the storyline adaptation, and use of costumes to accentuate movements were all very inventive. As a lover of glitter, I adored the shiny and sparkly costumes. The main acrobat’s costume was wisely and carefully crafted. Her black and white striped tights emphasized her bizarre flexibility.

I found it comforting and inspiring as an aerialist to hear the crowds’ gasps whenever the entertainers displayed their unordinary talents. The passion and determination each artist held was revealed through their art. The performers were not the only impressive piece of the show, however. The Phoenix Symphony played beautifully and no mistake was heard to the untrained ear. Aspiring performers should audition for next year’s performance to gain experience!

– Cailey

INTERVIEW and REVIEW: PARAMOUR and KYLE DRIGGS

Kyle Driggs and Allie, photo by Lilly Voltaggio

Paramour is a story of a simple love triangle, but the activity around the story makes the show a spectacle.  Not only are the music and dancing beautiful, but like any circus show, there is activity on every inch of the stage and from the ceiling to the floor!  I had the same feeling I have at any circus production — wishing I had multiple sets of eyes so I could see everything at once and not miss one performer.  Also, having tall people in front of me became a special challenge at Paramour because every inch of stage that’s obscured means missed action!

The show includes so many circus skills including juggling, acro, unicycle, mime, CYR wheel, pole, lyra, trapeze, clowning, contortion, Spanish web, and straps.  The aerialists hanging from the chandeliers made me want to go home and find something in my house to hang from.  During a dream sequence, a zombie came down from the ceiling over my head!  The show also incorporated flying drones decorated like lampshades that “danced” around the actors as they were singing.

Paramour is set to close April 16, 2017, one year from its opening date, due to planned renovations in the Lyric Theater where it is playing.  You have just a short time left to see it! I hope it will reopen in some form down the road so I can go see it again!

Thankfully, an AYCO board member helped me arrange an interview with one of the performers, juggler Kyle Driggs.  Kyle was very generous with his time and not only answered all of my interview questions about Paramour and his career, but offered advice for me to share!

Kyle began juggling as a teen and was supported by the Philadelphia Juggler’s Club.  He was also involved with AYCO member school, Philadelphia School of Circus Arts.  By the time he was a high school freshman, he knew juggling was his future.  He attributes his successful start in circus arts to the unwavering support of his parents.

In high school, Kyle mostly juggled juggling balls and clubs. In his senior year, he became interested in using rings because of the 1950s technique of rolling them around the body and over the back, coined by the Bramson Family. So when it was time for Kyle to audition for École Nationale de Cirque (ENC), the National Circus School in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, he auditioned with rings.  For three years at ENC Kyle developed his skill base and routines.  Kyle also minored in dance at ENC, which was evident in his beautiful Paramour acts.

Kyle took my family and me on a backstage tour and showed us small dressing rooms, halls lined with tons of costumes, and a wig room complete with wig drying machines, telling us, “The wigs are constantly washed and styled. They are all human hair.” He took us below the stage where eight musicians play multiple instruments each.  Violinist (and mandolin player) Paul “Woody” Woodiel described how when fellow musician Seth Stachowski is unable to perform, his position must be covered by two replacements because he plays five instruments!

The costume room at Paramour taken by Allie

The wig room at Paramour, taken by Allie

Violinist (and mandolin player) Paul “Woody” Woodiel, taken by Allie

Paramour schedule, taken by Allie

Kyle described working on Paramour as intense.  After four months of rehearsals, the show opened with eight or nine performances per week.  Usually Kyle has one day off per week and only had two weeks of vacation during the whole year.

At the end of our tour, Kyle led us to the stage and enthusiastically described his career path. Of course we wanted to know how Kyle started juggling with umbrellas — his signature object!  The story is just how you might imagine:  he was playing out in the rain one day with an umbrella, and he discovered he liked the “feeling it had”.  Kyle describes himself as an object manipulator who looks to work with objects “with charisma and feeling”. He says that the story he is telling and the feeling he is portraying is more important than technique.  Kyle described the many emails he receives from aspiring jugglers asking him what kind of umbrella he uses.  He typically answers that he feels it’s a personal choice and that he had to break hundreds of umbrellas before he found what worked for him.

Kyle Driggs answering questions from Allie, photo by Lilly Voltaggio

Kyle left me with a few interesting thoughts about ENC (Ecole Nationale de Cirque, in Canada).  He described the audition phases which include physical tests (acrobatics, physical conditioning, and flexibility) and artistic tests (dance and acting).  Kyle recommends making sure the physical tests are “easy for you” before you audition.  I expressed my personal concern about attending a college with French-based communication when I have only studied Spanish in high school.  He eased my fears, telling me that the instructors don’t only speak French to students and speaking French is not a requirement.  He called ENC the best immersion program for learning French; however, and considers himself fairly fluent now.  Kyle cautioned that his three years at ENC were very challenging and that he had to work very hard.

Kyle lives a life of an artist entrepreneur.  He said, “It is hard to make a living as an artist in the US… in Europe, it’s different.  In France, for example, the government pays artists.  In the US, you have to constantly get gigs.  And you have to pay for your own medical insurance and cover your own liability. As a freelancer, you have to have a lot of hustle.”  He described that working for Cirque du Soleil is an entirely different experience similar to working for any big corporation: you have job security and perks such as very good healthcare, but that you surrender some creative control.

Kyle values his creative control and his ownership of his own routines. In fact, though currently employed by Cirque, he legally owns the material he performs in Paramour, a situation he describes as unusual and that required extra legal advice and negotiating on his part.

Once Paramour closes, Kyle will spend June with Circus Flora in St. Louis, Missouri.  He is spending his free time applying for grants to fund his independent projects and working on his next big step in life – starting his own company to produce shows himself.  He is working with a partner/theater owner in Philadelphia to bring that dream to fruition.

Advice from Kyle:

Network.  You can’t do it alone.  Reach out to people who might be able to help you.

Go for it.  “Whole heartedly go for it!” For me as an aspiring aerialist, for example, he recommended reading and viewing on line everything there is on my tool of choice, silks.  He told me to learn everything there is to know and to study it like I would a school subject that really intrigues me, above and beyond what is assigned.

Work hard.  Working as a circus artist entrepreneur is hard work.  Prepare yourself.  Make yourself an expert at your skill, and work until the physical parts of the ENC audition are easy for you.

Circus is an opportunity:  Circus is one of the few disciplines that is still “do it yourself”.  With dance and acting, so much has already been done that it seems like you are defined (in one style) before you even go to school.  You are pigeonholed.  Circus is still undefined and open to more creative interpretation.

Final interesting tidbits:

1) The performers actually do say “hup” (softly) on stage – I wondered where it came from!

2)  Kyle won the Paramour Blooper Award for once falling off the stage during a performance!

Thank you, Kyle, for spending so much time with me!  Best wishes for the future!  I hope to see you again down the road!

– Allie

REVIEW: Kurios

marzi
A few weeks ago, I was able to go see the then-touring production of Cirque Du Soleil’s Kurios. It was my fifth Cirque show and one that I had heard absolutely raving reviews about from all of my friends, so my expectations were set high.
It was immediately apparent to me that it would not be difficult for Kurios to meet and exceed these expectations. I was captivated from the moment I took my seat and watched a clown gag play out in the row in front of me involving three performers handing a fleece sleeping cap, a pillow, and a mobile to an audience member and instructing him to take a nap on his girlfriend’s shoulder.
The show opened with a cradle act, which was masterfully choreographed to the music and had a clear, engaging storyline. As an aerialist, I loved this act because it was one of the most technically perfect performances I’ve ever seen. The flyer’s form was simply impeccable and each skill, from the basic to the ridiculously advanced and complicated, was executed flawlessly.
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Some other acts that stood out were the hand balancing and rola bola acts. The hand balancing act, led by acrobat Andrii Bondarenko, was as technically impressive as cradle — Andrii did not wobble once, even in a one arm handstand thirty feet above the stage on a stack of chairs without a safety line — but (without giving anything away) the act also had a clever and entertaining ending that, in typical Cirque fashion, pushed conceptual and physical boundaries with its creativity and ability to surprise an audience who are convinced they know what’s coming.
The rola bola act, in short, was the most nail-bitingly terrifying act I’ve ever watched in any theatrical production. I was on the literal edge of my seat the entire act. With the combination of the level of difficulty of the tricks performed and the exceptional, suspenseful presentation of them by the lead artist in the act, I truly could not believe what I was seeing. Even several weeks removed from seeing the show, I still cannot comprehend how it is possible to balance on five rola bola tubes thirty feet above the stage.
My favorite part by far, though, was the Acronet routine that opened the second act. Essentially an extra bouncy flying trapeze net, Acronet seemed, to put it plainly, like a trampoline artist’s dream come true. The artists, wearing brightly colored fish outfits with fins framing their faces, helped bounce each other up all the way to the cupola of the tent, doing some of the most complicated tricks I’ve ever seen. The act was fast-paced and high-energy, the perfect second act opener.
Overall, Kurios was by far the best Cirque show I’ve seen so far — thanks in part to the creativity, artistry, and amazing skill of the performers in their acts but also to the beautiful bright costumes, diverse and engaging but not overpowering music, and the seamless choreography of group numbers and especially of the transitions between acts (the juggler and yoyo man were phenomenal!). Kurios was, to put it plainly, as close to perfect as you can get in absolutely every aspect.
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– Marzi

REVIEW: La Nouba

A Cirque du Soleil show is an experience. The sounds, sights and overall feel of the show leaves you with memories of more than just the acts. From the concession stands and the boutique to the clowns and the acts, attending a Cirque show is a memorable experience. The La Nouba show in Orlando, Florida is all of this and more. I was fortunate to be able to see La Nouba for the first time on a recent trip to Orlando and it was truly an experience.

La Nouba is different from most Cirque shows in that it is housed in a permanent theatre in Disney Springs at Disney World. The theatre still has the same feel as their circus tent with a swooping roof that looks like the top of a tent. The permanent theatre provides the opportunity for Cirque to create a feeling for guests that begins even when they are walking to the theatre.  Located at the end of the Disney Springs area, guests walk up to the theatre across a large plaza from which they can either enter the Cirque boutique which is an experience for circus fans all by itself, or walk up the stairways to the theatre entrance.

Although the Cirque boutique is not officially part of the show, the excitement from people walking around the boutique before the show added an element of expectation for the evening performance. Once you enter the main doors on the second level, you are immediately immersed in the feeling of Cirque. The walls are lined with photos of famous performers and every detail of the concourse is designed to give you the feeling of being in a Cirque theatre. Even the popcorn and drink containers are themed for the La Nouba show.

Walking into the main theatre takes your breath away.  A four-story high stage with a semi-circle of seats in front of it divided by an aisle going around the whole theatre.  Unlike the travelling tents in which most people view Cirque shows, the permanent theatre allows Cirque to create a multi-level stage with a main performance area and multiple levels on either side for performers to appear during the main acts.

The pre-show clowns at La Nouba did not disappoint.  They interacted with the crowd throughout the theatre using a birthday party theme as the way to interact with each other and with the customers.  The clowns created a great feeling for the show as they introduced the breaking of a piñata as a theme they would then continue throughout the show.

The show starts with the Cleaning Lady who goes to clean the attic, but meets characters who have been long forgotten and want to tell their stories. The show has several main characters that show up intermittently and tell their tales. Specialty acts serve as the main pieces of the show. The show doesn’t feature as many aerial acts as some of their other shows, but they make up for it by using unique ground acts. Breakdancing, diabolos, and cycling served as the ground acts. Aerial bamboo and aerial cradle added some unique apparatus to the show. However, some less unique acts were also incorporated, but these acts did not disappoint: an effortless fabric piece, a thrilling rola bola and juggling act, an amazing synchronized flying trapeze act, and a high energy power track routine.

The permanent theatre allows for special touches to be made. Platforms can be raised a story off the ground to allow for performers to appear and disappear as well as served for the platform for the trampoline performers. The building allows for a more complex backdrop; a track runs halfway up the wall and different machines slide across the back during acts with performers on them.

Cirque was able to suspend the audience’s disbelief once again, and succeeded in putting on another stunning show that proved to be better than you could ever imagine. Overall, La Nouba is a mesmerizing show that is a crowd pleaser for both young and old.

– Em

REVIEW: Odysseo

 

On Saturday February 6, I went to the white big top to see Cavalia’s Odysseo. The white big top is three stories tall, about 125 feet tall, and is the size of an NFL football field or larger than a hockey rink.  In order to make the show magical, Odysseo uses eighteen projectors.  The smaller white tents surrounding the big top house sixty five horses, forty five artists, three hundred fifty costumes and one hundred  pairs of shoes.

horses

Odysseo by Cavalia captivated the audience by transporting them into a whole new world.  This world was filled with amazing aerialists, incredible acrobats, talented equestrian vaulters, and perfectly trained horses.  To seal the deal the audience could catch a glimpse of live music in the wings.

jumping stilt guy

When you enter the arena you are greeted immediately by the trees on the edge of the set.  The show starts with trivia about the stars of the show.  It’s amazing how long it takes to train these horses – up to six years!

The first half of the show included few aerials so the audience had a chance to appreciate the intriguing horses.  This included synchronized horse choreography and jumping.  The Roman Riding highlighted the performer’s balance and skill.  This act also introduced us to a group of fascinating acrobats that had the agility and endurance of wind-up toys!  Another thing I found fascinating was jumping stilt performers.  They did more than jump; the flipped over very high planks!  Lastly, one of the highlights of act one was the life sized merry-go-round.  It featured turning poles, Chinese poles, and the traditional merry-go-round horses.  This was the first aerial act which included amazing duo pole pieces and gravity defying solo pole performances.

merry go round

After intermission, the show continued with an impressive display of approximately twenty five horses.  This can only be described as organized chaos which must have been close to impossible to choreograph.  The intricate costuming perfectly blended the artists and the horses.  I was excited to see the hoops lowered down to introduce an incredible synchronized swinging lyra piece.  This was especially exciting for me because I train in hoop, so I was excited to see it in a performance.  This transitioned into a unique hammock and fabric display.  This included four synchronized artists doing various moves on hammock and tissu.  Odysseo’s finale was amazing!  Surprisingly, they partially filled the stage with water, brought back all of the performers from previous acts, and ended the show with a splash!

water

All in all, Odysseo brought the unexpected and then a little bit more!

~Maddie

REVIEW: Circus Now International Contemporary Circus Exposure 2016

On Saturday January 16, I went to see Circus Now: International Contemporary Circus Exposure 2016 at the NYU Skirball Center in New York City. This incredible show cannot be put into words, but I will try my best. It was a series of three acts from three different countries (USA, England, and Sweden), none of which were connected, but each added its own element: dramatic, fun, breath stopping…

circusnow

The Dinner of our Discontent (Aloft Circus Arts, USA): “Get out of my house.” Those are the only words anyone said in the entire act. Even though the performers did not speak much, they definitely had a lot to say. The skills alone were incredible, and the set added even more. As an aspiring aerialist, this act was straight up inspiring. The company set up the stage as a dining room, and what came next was unbelievable. We were led to believe that a couple had died. The family gathered for their eulogy and ended up getting in a fight. What followed was an absolutely beautiful combination of acro and aerials, hanging and fighting on chandeliers, climbing, dropping, performing on a metal chain hanging from the ceiling, and dive rolling onto the table and sliding across. I thought the act was a beautiful representation of exactly what you should not do in your dining room.

Water on Mars (Water on Mars, Sweden): Who knew you could make a juggling act so exciting with just a couple of rolls of tape? This dynamic trio was obviously there to have fun! Juggling dozens of clubs and rings continually through the act. How you ask? The tape! They were continually taping clubs and rings together right there on stage! They took juggling to an entirely new level, literally: they were juggling in two highs! The way they set up the stage reminded me of a preschool of some sort filled with toys, bins with toys, and even more toys; but instead of “toys”, there are clubs, rings, and balls. They even did their own sound work, continually moving the iPod around, and changing songs. To help make the point that they weren’t your average everyday jugglers, they ended by juggling open water bottles, rolls of toilet paper and, of course, bags of chocolate that they threw into the crowd. This act undoubtedly deserved their standing ovation, but I’m sure the chocolate helped. But I have to say, I felt sorry for the clean up crew.

Bromance (Barely Methodical Troupe, England): This act can be interpreted in many different ways. How to shake someone’s hand, how to deal with a love triangle…  These three insane UK acrobatic, parkour, dance machines absolutely wowed everyone in the audience. They also may have scared everyone more than just a little bit, but throwing someone from one person to another does that occasionally. This act had the perfect balance of fun and seriousness, and to help ensure this they would continually change the music and converse about what was going on. And as if that wasn’t enough, aside from doing life threatening acro, there was an absolutely beautiful cyr wheel act. To sum it up in two words: absolutely stunning.

I hope this gives you some idea of how amazing this performance really was, but like I said it’s nearly impossible for me to describe the wonder of it as I experienced it. Aloft Circus Arts, Water on Mars, and Barely Methodical Troupe definitely helped me put into perspective the level of skill and invention possible in the circus world.

~Isabella