Reality? Oh, please! And, yet … Circus Flora continues to amaze us. Unflinching, its artists perform mind-boggling feats of daring. In real-time! Did I mention their astounding athleticism? Speaking as someone for whom clambering up a gnarled rope in 4th grade gym class was as likely as scaling Kilimanjaro, all I can say is, “Wow!”
Circus Flora manages to create a personal connection between its circus performers and “earthbound creatures” like myself. (I borrow the phrase “earthbound creatures” from the program notes of Ivor David Balding, Founder, Artistic Director and Producer of Circus Flora.)
No seat is more than 42 feet away from the performance ring and the original live music keeps our toes tapping. As the clowns cavort, we adopt their antic rhythms as we clap along.
A few highlights from the production:
The Flying Wallendas represent a circus dynasty dating back to 1780 in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Here, they traverse the high wire by foot and other means. It looks effortless, but we know better.
Surrounded by junior members of the team, the family patriarch performs a handstand on the handlebars of an aerial bicycle perched on the high wire. We gasp, incredulous, but it’s just a typical work day for Tino.
The St. Louis Arches, an acrobatic troupe of local youngsters (ages 12 to 21), fling their bodies into the atmosphere, executing mid-air spins, flips and other remarkable maneuvers. As one after another lands gracefully on the shoulders of co-acrobats, these youngsters exemplify teamwork, precision and showmanship.
One of my favorite acts is Johnny Peers and the Muttville Comix Dogs. The canine troupe performs tricks that require meticulous timing and coordination. Mixed breed chihuahuas, poodles, toy fox terriers and others collaborate in a dizzying series of shenanigans. Imagine a doggie conga line. Cute! Now imagine two pups balancing on modified high wires. Along with kids in the audience, I’m delighted by their stunts.
There are about a dozen dogs. It’s difficult to give a precise count because none sits still for long and the brisk pacing results in comical furry blurry transitions. Peers’ obvious affection for his dogs is endearing and I’m pleased to note that all these canines were rescued from animal shelters.
In its 27th year, Circus Flora’s 2013 production, “A Trip to the Moon” is inspired by George Melies’ 1902 French film, “Le Voyage dans la Lune”. Melies was a stage magician and illusionist who cinematized his artistic talents. His film innovations earned him the nickname of “Cinemagician”. While his techniques may seem primitive by today’s standards, his film was considered revolutionary at the turn of the century. Melies’ cinematic lunar expedition debuted 67 years before our first manned moon landing in July 1969.
Between Circus Flora acts, grainy black and white images from Melies’ film are projected onto the backdrop while Cecil MacKinnon, Director and Narrator, delivers a running narrative loosely based on selected movie sequences. (MacKinnon’s sparkly blue tunic is stunning.) Circus folk act out the scenarios described.
These transitions serve two functions. Logistically, they allow time for set changes. Thematically, they attempt to connect the diverse acts. The lunar narrative seems strained, artificially imposed. I also find it intrusive due to a sound system that tends to muddle MacKinnon’s speech. Frustrating! My 24-year old niece has the same impression. The poor acting also detracts from the professionalism of the production.
On a positive note, I was mesmerized by the aerial Duo Ardeo. Supported by two long ropes, Andrew Adams and Helena Reynolds display an artistry that combines dance and gymnastics.
Adams begins by hoisting himself off the ground, elevating himself progressively higher. He performs handstands, swings and other maneuvers similar to those of Olympic gymnasts on the Stationary Rings.
Reynolds hops onboard and together, the couple delivers a choreographic display of curving contortions, stylized twists and rotations. Their bodies entwine around the ropes and around each other in a terpsichorean aesthetic. Other circus acts include breathtaking trapeze work, equine dressage and trotting goats.
Circus Flora continues through June 23rd. Its tent sojourns in the parking lot south of Powell Hall located at Grand Boulevard and Samuel Shepherd Drive in the City. With matinees and evening shows on weekends, the 2 ½ hour Circus Flora program is as family-friendly as it gets.
For further information, you may call 314-289-4044 or visit their website: www.circusflora.org
NOTE: In 2011, Circus Flora launched Clowns on Call, an outreach program to provide circus entertainment to locally hospitalized children and their families. Circus Flora’s dedication to the St. Louis community is reflected in all their work.http://www.circusflora.org