First posted December 31, 2011
Let's give a toast -- and roast a little, too -- to the season about to hit the history books. These informal impressions are drawn from my visits to most of the big tops and to Ringling. They are NOT based upon a careful evaluation of all I've seen.
Randomly speaking ...
Best News: Big Apple Circus is in fine hands, those of new artistic director Guillaume Dufresnoy. He has displayed both a penchant for novelty (porcupine and pig!) and a subtle flair for top-drawer staging. Will this alone turn the corner? Not exactly, but I think BAC has too much going for it to hit the skids. [comments that follow pertain to Dance On!]
Worst News: Continued media-rattling allegations of elephant abuse at Ringling: Mother Jones magazine doing a story on the issue; the show reaching a $270,000 settlement with the USDA, without admitting guilt. Jay Leno making hay of the issue on the Tonight Show. These unwelcome developments, combined with a bill being passed through congress that would curtail performing animals in circuses -- and the mere idea of the Ringling staff being taught how to handle and care for its own animals by USDA outsiders -- may mark the most embarrassing PR setback ever for "The Greatest Show on Earth." Not to mention the negative impact it will have upon public perceptions in general of all circuses. Who is ultimately responsible? Kenneth Feld.
Welcome Return: The aerial ballet, in new diverse forms, as witness wonderful incarnations of it on Cole Bros. Circus of Stars and Ringlings' Fully Charged.
Best act combing acrobatics and comedy: The African tumblers on Circus Vargas. A sly riot.
Most innovative act: The Wuqiao Acrobatic Troupe on Uni-wheels at Big Apple Circus
Best old thrill turn cleverly recycled. The human fuse on Ringling's Fully Charged.
Most delightful animal act: (hope I got this one right): Jenny Vidbel's horse-riding goats.
Best ringmaster (kindly keep in mind, I do not see all shows) Kelly Miller's John Moss III.
Worst ringmaster. Shall we count the blowhards? How about Cole, Ringling (Iverson), Vargas, and Carson & Barnes.
Best band: Big Apple Circus
Best taped score: Cole Bros. Circus of Stars
Worst performance setting (no rings,no respect): a tie between Ringling and Cole Bros. Circus of Stars
Best spectacle: The second half segments of Ringling's Fully Charged
Most Offensive spectacle: Unused ring curbs stacked in clusters on Ringling Fully Charged set. Rub your indifference in our eyes, Feld Family!
Warmest atmosphere: Kelly Miller Circus
Best little house act bordering on the amateur: The modestly delightful dogs on Carson & Barnes.
Most impressive contortion display: the solo contortionist on Carson & Barnes. [I have since learned that he was likely Franklin Solis]. He brings exciting new dynamics to an act that can all too often seem all too sloooooooooooooooooooooooow. Bravo!
Most dazzling young big top star: Adrian Poema, Jr. on Kelly-Miller.
Most hair-raising thriller: As I recall, on Circus Vargas, the separation between the two halves of the Globe of Death when the thing split open was incredibly wide, giving me a chill I rarely get at circuses these safer days.
Most vexingly uneven show: Carson & Barnes, from world class (Solis, among two or three top turns) to world crass.
Most remarkably scored big cage act: Cole Bros. Circus of Stars
Worst prop department: Cole Bros. klutzy forklift operations.
Biggest downer of the year: the thoroughly mean-spirited new film Water for Elephants.
Worst show-disrupting spiel: A tie between Kelly Miller's Peterson Peanut plea and Ted McCray's prolonged snake photo grind on Circus Vargas, bloating the intermission for as long as it takes.
Best performance setting: Big Apple Circus
Biggest disappointment: Cirque du Soleil's Totem. Is the world running out of talent enough to stock the CDS franchise? A thousand dry ice machines, a thousand flashing laser beams will not completely disguise threadbare goods.
Most welcome sight: A full house at Circus Vargas in Hollywood. Me wonders if the terrific CV product placement in Water for Elephants caused a minor stamped onto the lot at Sunset Boulevard -- boffo location!
The last word: To Baraboo's perennial booster, the good Doc Bob Dewel, who, like too many "visitors" to this blog, never deposits a single comment here but charms his way in through my e-mail. Bob's latest report on restoration work underway at his beloved Al Ringling Theatre: "Apparently we are never destined to have a sugar daddy with a million bucks or so, but are slowly restoring on our own, with a qualified artist. Outer lobby gleams, inner lobby is nearly done---we spent $1000 just to verify for certain the original colors (Peach and Gold, light and bright). ... All eleven dressings rooms restored, Ladies lounge partially finished ...Rapp and Rapp would be proud. So would Al. Ringling. Incidentally Al’s magnificent mansion is for sale! "
The last photos: Let's bring on Lory Lagoyda, whose mom and dad worked on Ringling 1955-56. Her mother, Tomoko Nakagawa, came over when she was just 18 with the Uyeno Troupe -- eight young ladies --from Japan, imported by John Ringling North to lend additional beauty and charm to production numbers. Lory's dad worked with the elephants. Here are some pics of Tomoko, and how happy she looks to be in the great Ringling chorus!
And that's a Happy Old Year!