Monday, December 19, 2016

Thinking Kelly-Miller Circus: Then and Now ...

During the depressing summer just past, when Big Apple Circus and Cole Bros. Circus both stayed in the barn, I was overly sensitive to any sign of another one falling.   And when, by summer’s end, the mailman had failed to bring me a package from John Ringling North II, I started fretting for the future of Kelly Miller, too.

So, big  big relief in my mail box a few days ago.  Came a parcel from Ireland.  Yes!   he hasn't forgotten me!  A DVD of this year’s show from Johnny Come Lately. He's been sending me one for the past several seasons.

Elated to be in receipt, I looked forward, more than I now look backward, to watching the DVD.  I hate to spread even a sliver of doubt during these difficult times, so let me merely say that, of course there are some good acts -- the dancing elephant is back, but on balance, I was rather disappointed in what I saw and heard.

I should hasten to add two big drawbacks to watching it: First of all, the tent is nearly empty, most of the front rows filled, and without an audience, a key component is missing. Secondly, unlike the previous DVDs I’ve received from the generous John in charge, the cameras on this show do not roll continuously, but after each act, there is pause in darkness with the name of the next act appearing on the screen. Thus, one is deprived of a sense of watching a show as the audience does.

                                            BACK TO 2012

Be that as it may, wanting to reboot my confidence in the House of Ringling, the next night, I decided to go back in time and watch the first DVD that John II had sent me, of the 2012 show filmed at Mendon, MA on June 26, not remembering what I had thought of it.

a screen shot of the DVD

What a remarkable difference  First off, a virtual full tent.  People, people, people.  Secondly, the cameras roll on through the entire show, so that you get a sense of actually watching an unedited performance.  This may have been the best staged and directed of JRN II’s editions.   Production values make a big difference, for which kudos to key contributors:

* John Moss III, for performance direction and for tip top to-the-point ringmastering with command and restraint.  A class act all the way.

* Music.  Two musicians, Michael Harber and Marshall Ekleman produce a terrific score, most of it of course pre-recorded.  Likely the best scored JRN II edition.  And what impressively in-sync sound effects, most of them for ...

* Clowning by Copeland and Combs.  They’re many rambunctious comedy bits give the show more cohesion.  I was made to reflect that clowns as characters and in conflict are what give circus its most human side, lending a sense of theatre.

* Danny and Tavina Brown, creators of the Pirates of Kellybean production number.

* Norberoo Fusco, for Pirates production choreography.

* Pirates itself, an ingeniously staged production combining circus action, a little dance and pantomime, and  rich in exotic atmosphere.  Here, John Ringling North  II  reveals his most creative hand.  Indeed, these mini production numbers, rather unlike anything I have ever quite seen,  mark his most distinctive contribution to circus performance art.  Not all  achieve lift off, but when they do, they transport us into another more enchanting sphere.

My favorite acts:

* Ryan Holder’s masterfully crafted tiger act, the smooth executions of it all a work of art. Yes, he's an understated showman,  but he reveals a subtle command.  Maybe the way to go given today's hypersensitive audiences.

* Carolyn Rice’s doggie romp in Pirates. Considering everything that goes on, non-stop, the dogs are jump happy and how they surprise me with so many tricks, this is simply heaven. I could watch it over and over.

* Another Pirates asset:  Fridman Torales’s nerve-wracking work building a stack of planks and cylinders atop the rola bolla onto which, each time, somehow he manages to balance himself. 

* Raul Olivares’s knockout juggling.  In scope, zip, and showmanship, his wide-ranging repertoire is a fair sensation  The more I see of his work, the deeper goes my respect.  He nearly brought down the house, clearly its favorite.

Armando Royal's three winningly talented elephants,

 * Clowns Ryan Copeland and Steve Combs.  Encore kudos!  All of their bits, each determined to outwit or out-slap the other, are emphatically executed with gusto, like seeing the Three Stooges live.  Their ring interactions with straight man John Moss are wryly whimsical.  Here they are, cutting it up with Moss in an Angry Clowns app spoof.

* Finale:  Near the end of the Fusco Gauchos dancing, the lights go dark with neon objects twirling about, and I am waiting, for what? Suddenly, the house lights come back on, and the entire cast is out there in the ring. Tremendous surprise staging.

The other acts?  Good enough to keep the show in the winning category.  For example, the camels and little zebra of  Mike Rice offer a simple yet fundamentally pleasing routine, its charming little star, the little zebra, tagging along like a little kid wanting to belong.  Touching.

Joy under that big top.  Had I seen this show and reviewed it, likely I would have given it three stars (out of four)

That was then.

And now is now.  Most of the people who helped make 2016 a year to remember are gone.

Another name is missing, and perhaps this is a reason for the show’s shifting personnel?

James Royal.  In the beginning, he would be, as he joked with me in an e-mail, North's "Concello." In real life, the original John Ringing North and Art Concello split at least once, and at least once, got back together.  Maybe there is at least an at least once, too, for North and Royal?

I have no idea.  I only wonder as I wander

My deepest thanks to John II for sending me the current  DVD and the earlier ones.

First posted December 19, 2016

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