PIctured: Hammer Guys Photo credit: Mark Turner.
When I was a kid, my grandfather took me to the circus every year. It was our thing. We always sat in the front row and ate cotton candy, the mixture of manure and carnie sweat wafting through the stands. It was back when going to the circus wasn’t a controversial affair. It was before the internet and the ability to record a video from the comforts of your back pocket. It didn’t cost you an arm and a leg either. It was where you went to see extraordinary feats of human agility. To this day, the circus awakes a sense of nostalgia in me. Or more precisely, a “hiraeth,” as the Welsh like to describe a feeling of homesickness of a place and time that can never return. Except, of course, when CIRCUS 1903: THE GOLDEN AGE OF CIRCUS rolls into town and manages to turn me back into a 6-year-old clasping my hands and yelping in delight.
How the majesty of the Oriental Theater and the grandeur of the circus managed to turn this into an intimate experience, I can’t quite put my finger on. It was largely due to the whimsy and humor of Ringmaster Willy Whipsnade played by veteran magician David Williamson whose disarming and candid portrayal tickled both our funny bone and childlike wonder. He managed to engage children from the audience and successfully navigate them on stage like a masterful kid tamer, all the while teaching them a most important life lesson of authenticity — the joy of being yourself. Willy related nuggets of circus wisdom, stayed sharp and witty in the face of unpredictable moments and always introduced each act as if he was talking about family: The Flying Fins — a teeterboard team that, believe you me, had no problem with gravity. Elena Gatilova —the Gymnastic World Champion whose aerial skills were superb. Florian Blummel — an artistic cyclist that truly did turn the “mundane into the fantastical.” Senayet Asefa Amare — the elastic dislocationist whose body contorted beyond what any human spine should allow. Francois Borie — the fastest damn juggler I have ever seen. The Rossi Brothers — an act that had my heart pumping in awe and fear. Los Lopez — a stunt performed without a safety net and with plenty of pizzazz. And as our trusty Ringmaster reminded us: “ Behind all the razzle-dazzle and the hullaballoo, what really matters is the talent. The few minutes of what we see on stage is possible by the years of practice and dedication and the knowledge passed down the generations.”
Completing this international traveling menagerie were puppeteered elephants Queenie and Peanut. The team hit the bullseye in providing both a fascinatingly realistic portrayal of the highly intelligent animals and a solution to the awareness of animal cruelty in the circus. An homage to the human oddity sideshow also makes an appearance and it’s lovely to see that the man-eating-chicken schtick is alive and well. But above all, my sincere gratitude for rousing my wistfulness, for leaving the sweet sublime taste of hiraeth on my tongue, for making my inner child really wish I can run away with you.
March 24th, 2017