Oakland to DC: Strike up the Bella Band!

Oakland to DC:  Strike up the Bella Band!
One of the best scored circuses in America. Scroll down to see the full story.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Heavy Scripting at the Circus: Ringling's Tediously Overwrought Out of This World Loses Heart in Space ... Animal Stars Save the Trip

Preface update, 5/16,17: First posted last August, this will have been my last Ringling review. How sad and sorry I am that it will be the last Ringling circus seen by the public. Whatever its merits in experimentation, it is arguably the most un-Ringling performance of them all.  How I had wished the public could have seen the more traditional Circus Xtreme. What will I remember the most about Out of This World?  Not the cold ice.  Not the plodding space ventures.  I will happily recall  the absolute delight that a pig sliding down a slide gave the audience. Then we were as one. Joyfully amused. Fully connected to “the ageless delight.” But there are other high points to, well worth remembering ... Au Revoir, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey,  the Big Show, the Big One, Big Bertha, the once great Greatest Show on Earth!

Circus Review:
Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey
Out of This World
Oakland, August 20

Having just seen the new edition of Ringling Bros. Circus, Out of This World, I am filled with a disorienting mixture of exasperation and exhilaration, and, mostly a sadness for something so ambitious that left me so wanting.  Or feeling so cold.  Even the mere sight of ice makes me feel that way.

You can’t blame the Felds for trying.  They are up against an increasingly jaded ticket buyer.

What they give us here is a tediously complicated sight and special effects show adding up, in its weaker frames, to much ado about nothing. If you want flash and lots of ensemble action on skates, you’ve got plenty of that.  If you want substance and clarity, don’t expect much here.  Perhaps this one was tailor made for the Disney on Ice moppets. 

Out of This World strains to tell a story, much of it ill staged off to one side, that may have more potential in cinema.  Since I did not buy the program, and could not understand all the announcements about it over a variable sound system, I will defer to a description of it on the website: “A heroic quest of good versus evil.” And how does that grab you?  Opening segments  run very slow.

How absolutely ironic, given the Felds stated need to compensate for the absence of elephants by breaking ground in new directions, that their first outing, post pachyderms, should realize its greatest appeal over the audience in old directions -- through its animal stars.  Through two acts, in particular:  The magnificent  tiger and lion display of Alexander Lacey, and the Cossack-style horse riders.  Yet another winning animal turn, no plot necessary,  has Lacey working a mixed group in the one fixed ring, including goats and a jumping kangaroo, while dogs and pigs nearby delight the crowd.  Ringling's website does not mention any of the acts by name.

Entering the arena, you are immediately placed in a very definite atmosphere that conveys the imagery of space travel.  Opening music, pre-recorded, is very strong.  When the band takes over and the animal acts hold court, the disconnect between the older fashioned circus and the rest of this overwrought hodgepodge is remarkable to behold: Circus, straight up, is far and away the more compelling force at work here.


I counted three standout routines: Lacey's cage display, the Cossack horse riders, and  probably the best flying return act I've seen in years. The Tunziani Troupe. Multiple riggings with flyers working side by side, offering a wealth of twisting and turning, deliver the real thing.  A thrilling climax has two triples executed simultaneously, the flyers moving perfectly in sync, AND in opposite directions, and both landing.  Who could ever ask for anything more?

It is revealing to feel so calmly anchored by the Lacy cage act, the flyers, and the horse riders.  This  same feeling of steady and compelling focus, however,  is hard to come by when heavy-handed ringmaster Iverson and others are hard at work trying to push a frivolous and plodding tale.


During the Cossack campaign, which lifts the show to a rousing end-point, I thought of  the English equestrian Philip Astley, who invented the circus over two centuries ago.    Here, his vision came brilliantly through: Power, speed, courage, agility, grace and gusto, and all in a ring.  CIRCUS, my friend.

For me, this was the true story line.  Compared to trying to make a circus into a lame play, the broad  strokes of the best performances were  far and away what moved the crowd.  I was there to hear it and to share it.  And when audiences leave this show,  the memory of those acts will give them greater pause to question the validity of everything else in the coldly alien Out of This World.

Despite the high points, frankly, it was something of a pain to sit through to the end, but I did.

Ringling, come back to earth!

Overall rating:  (out of four stars max)  2 stars 

Originally posted 8.20.2016

Friday, August 12, 2016

Big Top Tremors: On Carson & Barnes, A Second Spring ... On Ringling, Will Ice Suffice? ... On Bella, a Ringmaster is Born ... On Vargas, A Dog Might Help ... On Big Apple, a Llittler Apple Would Do ... And More on the Inside!

Back following the arrows, Carson & Barnes is NOT down and gone.  Not by a dozen scrappy seasons, I’d guess.  As C&B goes, I have come to feel, so too goes the circus. The Byrds have a way of making it happen, assuming they are not running a Ponzi peanut scheme on the side.  They took an ominous “mid-summer break” and some wondered in dead-season dread, are they doomed?   Not so.  And that cheers my battered big top heart. 

So, too, is Circus Vargas — still on the road, that is.  And headed my way.  A wining Vargas TV ad looks awesome.  Makes me want to go again, and hope again, and rue the dismal setting in which they, the antiseptic circus without even a dog or a cat, so fittingly pitch their top -- on another one of those dying American malls (no tears here, I’m old-school Main Street)  in a place called Hayward, CA.  So depressing, the tent over asphalt, the tent up against a cold thundering freeway, the tent lost in a concrete canyon, one by one, big name tenants deserting.  Macy’s gone.


How good or not so good is Ringling in its new space age colors?  Strange they could not pull a major review in Los Angeles, where they uncorked Out Of This World. New York Times sent Brooks Barnes out to cover the prior try-out date in Fresno, and his report offered two views of the space voyage.

THE AUDIENCE: “Judging from the zealous applause ... Feld’s vision has its fans.”

HIS OWN OBSERVATIONS:  “Modernization efforts are never easy, especially when the product being updated relies on nostalgia for a great deal of its appeal. Ringling’s customers tend to be parents wanting to pass along a rite from their own childhoods — the smell of the sawdust, the drippy snow cone, the booming voice of the ringmaster. Too much change too fast could upend a form of live entertainment that remains an enormous draw, particularly among working-class families.”


The Little Apple Circus, anyone?  Let’s put this theoretically out-of-business show on the Watch List.  All they need do is run the bureaucratic bloat off the lot, let go of Lincoln Center — You are NOT a Broadway show, Big Apple  -- and put on a dandy enough circus in city parks.  Me thinks, if there is to be a future, it is in Paul’s hands.  Me thinks, he  awaits a Wall Street angel-to-the-rescue.



On a Bella Bounce: Once Oakland based, the student-family Circus Bella, with a dozen or so free summer shows in Bay Area Parks, again juggles up a modest little energizer,  managing to keep most of the clubs in motion. In its favor, Bella has retained its engagingly inventive clown, Calvin Kai Ku and its tip top band leader, Rob Reich. Best of all, Bella’s best new discovery is a ringmaster named David Hunt,  above, the fellow who co-founded the show and did a slack rope act --  until now.  Let’s hype Hunt: A natural born charmer, smartly short of overkill, Hunt combines the zest of a carny baker with the cool of a stand up comedian warming up a studio audience for a TV show taping. Circus owners are you reading this?  The name, to repeat, is David Hunt ... As for the music man, I still recall Reich’s joyful score two years back (the best Bella show, one could feel promise then), which capered and giggled, tooted and rooted on  a breezy melodic bounce.  This year’s music is more grunge than than gusto, more sax than piccolo.  I prefer the latter.

Shunning its roots, Circus Bella now calls San Francisco its home, and what a groveling and sad sell out to the epicenter of narcissism and greed. A city where circus skills are pitched to the rich with an itch to dabble. A city of pretenders.  Welcome to the club, Bella.



END RINGERS: Rhode Island banning bull hooks.  Might the issue end up in the supreme court?  Not without Feld contesting it; perhaps they will put their retired bulls back to work in some other world. The Elephant exit is not about to be overturned, kids ... John Ringling's old private car, The Jomar is now a restaurant.  Why did one of the museums not grab it up?  ...  The Windjammers recently gave three concerts in Baraboo, two on the square, and one at Circus World.  Circus Historical Society President Don Covington, and himself a piccolo player, likened the experience to “coming back to Mecca.”

Anybody watching the rah-rah Olympics? I got so frustrated with the NBC schedule, which did not match what I actually looked forward to seeing, because of that schedule, that as long as they try making me watch everything, I won’t watch anything.   Besides, I am still smarting over the chronic absence  of roller sports at the games. 

Go, Carson & Barnes!  

 Big Apple Circus in the beginning

Wednesday, August 03, 2016

On Big Apple Circus: I Am Very Depressed

UPDATE, 7/29/16: Carson and Barnes  now shows future 2016 dates on its Facebook page.

I have little will to say much at this point, considering how devastating a season we are living through.   I would like to lay down and cry.

No Cole Bros.

For an ominous spell, Carson & Barnes, after half a season, went on a break.  And then came a terse announcement on their website, still posted, "No upcoming events." I tried calling the number and got no where.

And Big Apple.  They aren't going to play Lincoln Center, and that seems final.  But that alone does not bother me so much -- as long as they play somewhere.  Surely, Paul, you can do that, can't you?

I am feeling very sorry for all circus owners and producers, so here is this, from earlier in the season of 2016.

7.17;16

Tuesday, August 02, 2016

America's Got Circus, Too: TV Judges Give Tanbark Talent Genuine Respect

Big Top Action Helps Power America's Got Talent

And what a pleasure it is. And how glad am I that I took the time to check out the current season of America's Got Talent.

I'd known of the show's history, circus acts appearing now and then, but haven't watched it for a few years.  Simon, yes Simon Says Yes - Simeon Says No is what brought me back.   What I like the most is how the judges embrace the best circus acts, their raving reception making them seem fresh again.  

I assume that audience members surrendered their smart phones upon entering.

Really, most of these acts are hardly amateur.   


These veteran wire walkers performed a fairly standard routine.  The judges appeared to be in such dread,  that I wondered if they were overdoing it a bit. 

I've never felt so unnerved by a knife and fire throwing routine. 


Simon, of course, is the star judge.  The one whose word we await.  But the other judges form a most winning panel.

Yes, if this act is not razor-edge dangerous, I don't know what is.

Back to no-nonsense basics: TRICKS

Circus "tricks" is not a dirty or passe word on this program -- as it has become in higher quarters of advanced circus learning and credentialed creation.  Said one of the contestants, proudly to the judges, "We have new tricks and surprises." 





A dancing dog.  Wish I had better pictures to show.  These were taken on my iPhone in front of my TV screen.

The judges loved this oddball character, half clown, half experimental prankster.  Why can't we get somebody like him under a circus tent?


 Pure circus -- hold the big top broccoli 

As some of you may have noticed, circus acts today may come to you in any number of overwrought formats -- straddled to a "story" line; rendered inside a black S&M tent drenched in blood; over ice or under water.  Here, circus is performed straight ahead, and what a pleasure that is. 


Which is to say that Cirque du Ballet  has not infected the program, And this speaks well of the producers, who apparently have a good understanding of what circus is all about.  I compared it to the earnestly plodding   Celebrity Circus on NBC back in 2008, whose Cirque-obsessed contestants seemed driven to land contracts with the Montreal monster.  After five labored episodes, that tediously pretentious sell-out to fringe circus was history.

Minus excessive airs, our attention is thrown exclusively onto the tricks themselves. 


The judges -- Howie Mandel, Heidi Klum, Mel B, and Simon, :  I like all four of them a lot -- augmented here with the fellow in the middle, a guest judge that week. So much better than some of the sleazy panels on Idol in recent years, which put me off and left me with no desire to watch the foundering program.   Simon works well with his cohorts.  I would venture to guess that this panel might be the most winning of all on either of the talent shows so far.  The cool and warm Nick Canon is the perfect host.

Okay, yes, notwithstanding the above, this amphibious  ball juggler looked like a veiled promo for Cirque du Soleil.  The judges loved him.  I found him slightly more repellent than riveting. 



 WARNING TO ALL CLOWNS.  You SCARE Simon.  Apparently, he suffers from coultraphboia, a recent British diagnosis for the fear of circus clowns.The put down "creepy clowns" was uttered more than once.

And this overdone Bozo drove Simon close to the edge.  The guy was stupidly silly.  I doubt he made it through.  Maybe a future on the Shrine clowning circuit?

Call the doctor! Simon is having a coultraphobia attack!


When I first watched the program some years ago, I don't recall as many circus acts.  Perhaps the producers are banking on big top gusto to give the show more variety and surprise.  And think of it, where in the world can a circus performer get an audience in the millions? Where?
 
 

So let's all hear it -- GO CIRCUS on America's Got Talent!

************  THE RATINGS  ************* 

So, how are you doing, circus?  After writing this, I just checked on the ratings, having no idea what the show has been doing.  Whopping good!  They drew over 10 million viewers last week, more than twice  that of second place The Bachelorette:

Yes, Go Circus Go!

Monday, August 01, 2016

MIDWAY FLASH! MIDWAY FLASH! King Cole Circus Fails First Payday, Tour Ditched, Trucks Headed Back to Florida

Update, 8/9/16:  More comments have been added. 
 
This just in from Circus Chuck to Showbiz David:

"Just informed by people on the show that trucks headed back to Florida, missed first payday and Dickie Garden pulled the plug. Guess Johnnie will have to drive his new Mercedes all by himself."

Thank you, Chuck 

7.13.16