Tuesday, March 08, 2011
Ringling ‘68 in Black and White Under a Homely Steel Top: The Magic Lives On ...
Having just read a mixed review in the New York Times of Ringling’s latest offering, Fully Charged, written by a critic, Neil Genzlinger, who seems to have suffered post-circus-overload stress-syndrome, my mind is about made up that this will be a Ringling off-year for me. It all started with Barnum’s Funundrum — yes, admirably superior in parts, but desperately needing to sell itself and then some to others.
Evidently, even now with the Feld of Felds, Kenneth, having stepped away a tad to let his daughters “produce” (his word, not mine) while he serves in his new self-appointed calling as Big Picture Man of the Big Show, things are not going to change on the Feld ranch anytime soon.
As for myself, I rue the demise of their visits under canvas to good old Coney Island. I knew it had little chance for lasting — circuses do not fare well in such extended visits (of over two months). I rue that. One ring forced Mr. Feld to restrain his pyrotechnics addictions , to calm down, chill out, and let the performers sell the circus themselves rather than the other stuff.
And then I watched my DVD of the 1968 television highlights of the Ringling show, hosted by Mike Douglas. (I'd only seen it once, then my player died.) They taped it during a performance in Baltimore under a hard top hardly glamorous. That was one of the best circuses I’d ever seen; watching portions of it on grainy film did not diminish the show’s inherent excellence, there was, ironically, a remarkable simplicity considering it was still very much a three-ring affair. The tricks were strong and simple, cleanly defined, efficiently executed. Three or four of the clowns, for example, all decked out to half-way look like race horses, came running down the final stretch when, just at the finish line, the neck of one extended far ahead, giving it a fake advantage. Very funny! So quick and to the point.
I enjoyed the amusingly ersatz-hip Carnaby Street, with Hugo Schmidt’s perky pachyderms moving nimbly from one feat to the next; the elegance of Antoinette Concello’s wonderfully inventive aerial ballet, Winter Wonderland. The rambunctious charm of Stephenson’s Dogs. The very funny riding Saxons, not just funny but experts at linking one item quickly into the next. The teeterboard Silagis, sans mechanics. The quiet control of Evy Althoff working a Siberian tiger and a horse through a well crafted routine of individual behaviors building to a nicely polished payoff.
To your right, stager-director Richard Barstow.
By today’s standards, these acts actually look better to my eyes. And we only get a sampling of the circus's '68 riches. Not included in the special were the likes of foot juggler Ugo Garrido, the Hergotti Troupe, The Boskays, Inbeborg Rhodin, Charly Bauman’s magnificent tiger spread, Erika Pinske. That was a show I saw several times when it came to Oakland that year; were it still on the road, I’d go again — and again. Heck, I might have to relearn the art of passing through the back door with the air of a Ringling staffer.
I am doubting you will ever see a return of Ringling to Coney, not with a new arena going up in the area in which they show is already booked to appear in a couple of seasons. And I hate to say this, but I don’t think Kenneth Feld is going to miss the tent. Yes, I know, he does not do art, has little patience for it. We are sure to get more Feld fireworks, and probably more new ringmasters telling us over and over again that we are at the greatest show on earth. More of the production overkill which likely drove Neil Genzlinger to concede, “Alas, you’ll go home with much less impressive trinkets, and possibly a headache, from this loud and pizazzy show ... Lost in the noise and the arena setting is some pretty amusing clowning. That circus art, at least, is made for a small tent, but given the economies of scale, is rarely seen in one these days.”
Yeah, more sledgehammer showmanship. Sorry to say, I am kind of looking forward to a summer away from all that stuff. Maybe Circus Vargas will deliver big this year.
And finally, to show you that I am not pitching the '68 DVD to make sales for anyone, just try getting it — from your favorite vendor.