Saturday Night At Jazz Fest!

Ellen Powell

Saturday night was the last night of Discover Jazz Festival music on Church Street. We went downtown with our grandchild in the late afternoon, then returned for some adult time later in the evening. In addition to music from our Friend Ellen Powell and her trio, there were a couple of street performers doing circus!

This year we were in town for the Festival, and we were most happy to be engaged with the music and performances. Here are photos from our evening, Saturday!

 

Australia’s “Circa” at the Flynn Center

Performance Day at Circus CampLast night we had an adult family night at the circus. Circa, Australia’s “Nouvelle ” circus played to a engrossed, deeply appreciative audience at the Flynn Center. Circa is a troop of young Australian men and women who create circus from acrobatics, physical theatre, gymnastics and dance.

On their website they write:
At Circa we create circus that moves the heart, mind and soul. We discover, cultivate and present works and experiences from the living heart of circus – vital, challenging and delightful. We believe circus is a rich artistic territory that can deeply touch audiences and participants. To achieve this, we progress with ceaseless inventiveness (in all aspects of our art and operations) guided by safe danger and fuelled by love and respect.

Oddly, the strong themes that rose to the fore for me, as I watched the show last night, were violence and sexuality. Their presence seemed to permeate the emotional world of the show. I was reminded of the violence that seems to underlay much of  relationship among the young, especially as portrayed in the popular media.  I was also reminded of the classic Australian film, Walkabout.

I was also struck by the absence of an easily identified core narrative, a hallmark of much “new” circus. Rather, the show was composed of a series of vignettes, connected more by emotional tone,and performance style, than by narrative thrust. Still, there were many moments of high artistry and great emotional intensity.

One segment stole the hearts of the audience. A performer stood alone at the front of the stage, and used his hands as remarkably expressive puppets. One young boy in the audience began to laugh. His expressive hoots and belly laughter swept through the theater, capturing the entire audience in his delight! The actor rode the boy’s joy, creating a spellbinding moment from a routine combining physical clowning and puppetry.

If there was something missing, it was the presence of Aboriginal performers.  The material seemed to refer to the mythic worlds of Australia’s many Indigenous people, as well, perhaps, as Australia’s violence colonial history. Yet, judging from the website, there appear to be no Aboriginals in the troop. This seems problematic, given Australia’s many fine Aboriginal artists.

Circa is headed West before going home. If they are coming to your community, see them. If you see them, tell me what you make of the performance.

 

Zoppe Family Circus

Arials at Fools' Fest

This might  have been circus weekend here in Burlington. Friday night we attended the Zoppe Family Circus. Yesterday we briefly attended Fool’s Fest. I say “might” as the sows we caught at Fools Fest were well below past years standards of performance.

Zoppe have been a family owned circus for over 150 years, originating in Italy. Their aim is to present authentic Italian family circus, which they accomplish with flair. After a 30 minute preshow, outside the tent, we were let in. Immediately, one of the ushers noticed my crutches, and invited us to sit in actual chairs, about two feet from the two foot high single ring. This would prove pivotal.

Zoppe has a number of animal acts, something I find challenging. That said, the animals seemed healthy, and most appeared quite happy. The show began with a draft horse racing around the edge of the ring, inches from us. The horse must have been at least twelve hands!

The heart of Zoppe is their clowns. The lead clown, Nino, was spectacular. The show is built around his antics. Like many clowns, he carries an impressive skill set, including juggling and aerials. He was also a fine actor.

In the row of chairs immediately behind us sat a family with a little girl about 3 years old. Fairly quickly she found her way to the empty space beside my chair. Together we watched the show, each calling the other’s attention to the unfolding action. A couple of times, equestrians seemingly accidently hit a support pole immediately to our left. Once, a rider was knocked off his horse. Each time the child ran for cover. Who could blame her!

The highlight of the evening was, I suspect, a moment when the clown was crying. He walked around the ring, shedding plentiful tears on those nearby. Of course he stopped at my seat. (Earlier he had clapped my hands for me, during a moment when everyone was supposed to be clapping.) After spraying me with water, he turned away, only to return. I cowered under a deluge of tears, much to everyone else’s glee. (I was laughing heartily!)

The little girl fled to her mom, who tried to assuage her concerns for my safety. She seemed relieved when I turned around laughing and told her the dousing had been fun.

As we left the tent, post performance, we were greeted by the performers. I approached the clown and received a bear hug, in spite of my crutches and very wet clothes. Maybe it was inevitable Fools Fest would disappoint following that.

Circus Time 2011: Circus Smirkus!

It’s mid-summer and time for circus. Yesterday, we went to Circus Smirkus, a touring youth circus company of the highest caliber. This is our first year, in many, without a youngster attending Circus Camp, so attending a performance was a way to reconnect with old friends. The performers in this year’s edition are young. Indeed, they are the youngest group I can remember from years of going to their performances. The show gainfully highlighted some of the youngest talent. It also focused on clowning, a skill honed by several of the older, more experienced, performers. The group scenes were beautifully choreographed, and the show, as a whole was both visually engaging, and downright fun.

There were a couple of disturbing bits though. First, although I was on crutches, and a few people we know who are associated with the tour, stopped to talk with us, I was not invited to come into the tent early, as has been the case before. Instead, we waited for 30 minutes, STANDING in the hot sun. Persons in wheelchairs, or who used walkers, were admitted early. People around us commented to me about this discrimination. When we were finally admitted, most of the lower seats were reserved, meaning I had to work my way to the top of the bleachers, then back down, and in a very tumultuous, crowded environment. Fortunately, the bleachers were only about eight rows high, and the steps shallow.

The other issue was one of appropriation. The current show is set in the Twenties and early Thirties. The costuming, beautifully designed by Katrin Leblond, fit the period superbly. One characteristic of design at that time, was the use of Native American motifs. Naive American design influences have appeared in circus since at least the time of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. Circus is, by its very nature, postmodern, usurping design and mythological motifs from everywhere. (Also, clowning is an ancient Native device, often used in sacred contexts. Clowning is also just plain fun!) Yet, I found the use of Native references, taken out of context and with no attention to Native culture, hurtful.  I’m sure any racism was unintentional (see the recent post by Sarah-Joyce Battersby about similar content at the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin), and hope folks will be more attentive next year.  (The twenties and thirties were a really difficult time for Natives throughout the U.S., just ask people of my parents’ generation.)

These concerns aside, the show is fun and the price is great. Go see Smirkus when the kids come to a town near you this summer.

 

Circus Weeks!

Our last two weeks have been filled with circus. This is seemingly an annual Autumn event, one much anticipated. I wrote two posts on another blog that are not included here. They include photos and videos. If you’d like to visit them, here are the links:

At Circus Camp!

Circus Week!

Enjoy

The Healing Magic of Circus

Aereals

Healing arises from hope, love, and community. Watching the kids perform that last day of Circus Camp reminded me that building community, artistic skill, and creative excellence takes practice, acceptance, and determination. At camp, the kids supported one another, competed, collaborated, created, and played. They also worked very, very hard. Circus Camp seems to be a great, flexible, supportive studio for creating the present and the future.

I imagine, and hope, that much healing occurred during camp. Transformation is a kind of magic. Healing, that transformation that takes us from disharmony to balance, is encouraged by engagement in the mysterious, the beautiful, and the awe-inspiring. Where better to find all of these, and community, than in the circus. Circus is magic!

Clowns, Healing, and the Sacred

A Hint of Autumn

This week I noticed the first leaves just tinged with red. Summer is still very much with us, but Fall is already making itself known. Late summer is a clown, luxuriating in the pleasures of this seductive season, and pointing with sorrow to the frugalities of the coming Autumn. “Dance! Dance!” She seems to say. “Tomorrow may be to late!” Then she winks!

In many cultures, clowning is sacred. Holy clowns point to the mystery in everything, reminding us there is a spark of the creator even in the profane. My favorite First Nations clowns are Pueblo, irresistibly irreverent, socially critical and astute, and wildly funny. I am also drawn to the court jesters of old Europe, and their contrary equivalents in the New World. These clowns utilized humor and courage to heal by speaking truth to power.

Although clowns utilize comedy to address the human conditions, they are not comedians. Clowns rely on mime, carefully designed costuming, and artistic movement to communicate to their audience. Some use words, carefully and to effect. Many are silent. Clowns may be practicing shamans or healers, members of sacred societies, or circus perfromers. The best point always to the sacred.

The sacred, mystery, and joy are all found in the human experience of sexuality, and sacred clowns are so acutely aware of this conjuncture they may appear preoccupied with sex. They touch bystanders in provocative ways, make lewd gestures and comments, and pretend to mate with all manner of people, animals and objects. Their humor is scatological. Yet, beyond their ribaldry lies a message: sexuality is sacred, and central to life! There is another message as well: sexuality serves best when there are boundaries to engagement with, and in, it. Often the clowns pointedly single out those  who are prude, or promiscuous, or who misuse their authority or status in order to acquire sexual favors. Healers and politicians who abuse their power should be prepared for a thorough, and very public, roasting.

Clowns are often masterful healers,  restoring balance by uncovering the hypocrisies, secrets, and excesses of the communities and cultures in which they live. They cure by making us laugh at ourselves, each other, and even, the heartbreaks and terrors that enter our lives.  Often clowns utilize “gallows humor” to remind us we are not alone in our bungling, hungers, and suffering. (Trauma survivors in group therapy soon discover the healing potential of gallows humor!) Clowns know that to be fully human is to laugh.

Autumn approaches. It heralds the coming of  winter, the time of storytelling, ritual, and community. With the end summer, and the circus season, perhaps the clowns will leave the plaza for a while, will disappear from view. They will be back come mid-winter, and again at Carnival. They will make other appearances at unexpected, and probably, inconvenient times.

Oh look, here come the clowns!

At Circus Camp!

Last Saturday we went to the concluding performances of Smirkus Camp, the training arm of Circus Smirkus. My stepson, Daniel, has been going to this camp for many years, and this was his last summer as a camper. (He was a counselor in training for part of the summer!) I was using a new camera, with real manual focus on the telephoto so……. a challenge.

The show was, as always, brilliant! So much talent and creativity! By the end I wanted to run away to the circus!

Below are photos and video of the performance. Enjoy! Continue reading

Clowns, Healing, and the Sacred

This week I noticed the first leaves just tinged with red. Summer is still very much with us, but Fall is already making itself known. Late summer is a clown, luxuriating in the pleasures of this seductive season, and pointing with sorrow to the frugalities of the coming Autumn. “Dance! Dance!” She seems to say. “Tomorrow may be to late!” Then she winks!

In many cultures, clowning is sacred. Holy clowns point to the mystery in everything, reminding us there is a spark of the creator even in the profane. My favorite First Nations clowns are Pueblo, irresistibly irreverent, socially critical and astute, and wildly funny. I am also drawn to the court jesters of old Europe, and their contrary equivalents in the New World. These clowns utilized humor and courage to heal by speaking truth to power. Continue reading

Circus Week!

This week is Circus Week at our house. Over the weekend we attended Fools’ Fest in downtown Burlington. Friday, we go to pick up one of our teens who is at Circus Camp, with Circus Smirkus. The kids will perform the routines they have been working on, acts in progress.Anyway, I will have more to say about circus as the week moves along.

Our family sees a lot of circus, attending performances almost every opportunity we have. Circus is dear to us. We love the beauty, skill, and daring of circus performance. Circus reminds us that we can be in the world skillfully, can entertain and be entertained, and can laugh and cry with others. Circus invites us to have faith, find the miraculous in the ordinary, and transgress our everyday boundaries. Ultimately, circus reminds us  to have fun. Continue reading