Thursday, January 31, 2013

Liz Arratoon reviews Monte Carlo Circus - Program One, in London's The Stage Magazine

Gold Clowns at Monte Carlo -- exactly to whom, may I ask?

Do the French hate us so much, that on the website under "English" the names are still spelled NOT in English?

I'm not really sure who got the gold.  It appears, only two Gold Clowns, one to a Beijing troupe, the other to the "Ukrainian" gymnast duo Serhiy Popov and Mykola Shcherbak, identified in some quarters as Russian.

If you want to read about the festival's rich offerings, I highly recommend the work of possibly the best circus critic on the planet, Liz Arratoon, who describes program one, act by act, in London's The Stage.


Say what you will, American circus community, the Monte Carlo bash probably does more than any other single entity on earth to elevate and keep alive the world's perception of circus arts.

How I would love to go there every year, but not in flight.  Is there a Greyhound through bus?

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Damn Interesting: The Latest from Alexis Gruss Circus in Paris Blends Sawdust and Cinema

Thanks to a video routed my way by Don Convington, I was so taken by the footage, I dug deeper into Circus Gruss.   A kind of self-tutorial brush up.  The various images I came upon, and certainly the video, are quite captivating. They reveal great imagination in the staging.  And they do not hold back on the more traditional big top elements that cause such controversy in some quarters.  Yes, even an elephant!

So there, world of withering regard for arguably the essence of the complete circus.

What follows, as quoted, I found off a pitch from the show.  Might be worth your readery before e-running off to all those frenetic daily rituals.

The Premise:

"A new show called Ellipse has come to the Cirque National Alexis Gruss, a Parisian circus venue located in the normally quiet 16 arrondissement. With Ellipse, a unique spectacle blending circus and cinema, there is something for everyone to enjoy, no matter how old they are. And guests staying at the Hôtel Louvre Marsollier have the chance to attend this one-of-a-kind performance during their stay in Paris.

"Until March 17, 2013, audience members can share some of the best moments in cinematic history with the impressive performers of this innovative circus. This is the 39th creation the of Alexis Gruss circus, and it promises to be a spectacular one."

Cinematic Context:

"On the stage, there is a large panoramic screen in addition to the performance area. In this way, projected images are as much a part of the show as the performing artists are. What’s more, orchestral music reminiscent of film scores accompanies the entire performance, encapsulating the audience in a complete audiovisual experience."

The Circus Guts:

"In terms of stunts, there are plenty of surprises as well. Audience members can discover for the first time jugglers on horseback and other feats. Of course, it cannot be a circus without an elephant, and Ellipse does not disappoint on this front either. Other mainstays of the circus — like acrobatic stunts, bicycle feats and other tricks on horseback — can of course be expected as well."

So, hey!  Even the fussy philosophic French still have a place in the ring for animals.  In these tricky times, this amounts to a promising premise all on its own. 

Watch a Great Video Sampler of Ellipse:


Sunday, January 27, 2013

My 3-Channel Weekend Starred Lawrence Welk. Thank You, Comcast. What Next: Test Patterns?

An enduring delight: dancer Bobby Burgess and his remarkable choreography

Lawrence Welk never looked better than he did last night, in a Hi-Def landscape superior to what I have so far enjoyed, to the extent that I enjoy television these days.

Thanks to Comcast, I am weening myself away from tooooo much TV.

Gradually, they are giving me fewer channels.  Each time I call to report reception problems, that's what happens.  On Friday night, I decided to take a chance on their "live chat" on line with somebody who sounded like she lived on another planet, which made me wonder if Rod Serling had scripted that episode.  She said things like "You're doing great, David!" and she kept putting me on hold, probably to continue texting her boyfriend.  Finally ...

" I want you to take out your cable card, David, and put it back in after 15 seconds."  "Are you sure it won't make things worse?" I asked.  "No, no." After we had ended out date, and after I waited for 45 minutes, I noticed that I now was down to three channels -- CBS, Fox, and a local PBS. But what great reception!  I can see so many unflattering things on the faces of people.  My reward from Comcast, I guess, for its otherwise non-existent "customer service."

I could have watched, at the same time, Seinfeld, but I always have to work very hard at finding him funny, always giving up.   On CBS, some dreary looking romance, maybe with a recovered terrorist, down in a gloomy bunker, maybe where Comcast rents space for its call center.

As for Mr. Welk, its'  kind of embarrassing putting out a post on his show, but he can be very good, in between a lot of cheesy mediocre singers from the band. 

In his own class, an intriguing depth below the surface:  Ken Delo gave the show a rare cabaret ambiance

They do some great music.   Sometimes, the arrangements really impress, as when the band played "As Long As He Needs Me" (From the musical Oliver), making it far less dreary and depressing than it usually sounds.  It's a song that has kept my brother from liking Oliver.  Last night, they were doing a toast to the songs made popular by Nat King Cole.  Overall, a good job.

The Welk irritants, big time:  Topping the list is Joe Feeeeeeeeeny, who drives me to the mute button, hoping to escape his high pitched voice.  When I can't, I hear a terribly up tight barbershop quarter, I smell that old shaving lotion, Old Vic?, that seemed like the only brand available when I started to shave many centuries ago.  Squeaky clean Tom Nethertton reeks of  "I  am Pat Boone, and don't you just love my sweet Sunday morning face."

And then, the fake married couple Guy and Ralna (I learned this later and I wish  hadn't), for now I cringe watching them ooze artificial adoration, their faces in closeups looking practically glued together.  And I wonder, did anyone on that show ever go out on anybody? 

There are real stars:  Topping the list, Bobby Burgess and his dance partners are fab.  Ken Delo is a most interesting presence, a great vocalist who might have been bigger in another life.  He almost looks subversive, maybe because he once sang a song from Phantom of the Opera. And there's the C&W woman, a soloist who delivers finely. On balance, the female troubadours, like Anna, are quite fine and much better than their male counterparts from the band.

Maestro Welk himself is a charming curiosity, the way he dances, the way he gets into directing the band.  His enthusiasm is, indeed, infectious.  You gotta give him credit.  He reached a wide populist audience by giving them a wide spectrum of music. Sometimes, they hit the heights.  Other times, well, enough about those.

When I would visit her periodically,  I  had  devious fun watching it with my late Aunt Ginny when it was on network TV. . She would gauge my reactions, as if to be both warning me not to be critical while at the same time egging me on (that was her).  Whenever I made subtle little digs, I waited for something that I really liked, and went overboard in my praise.  Even then, she might look at me skeptically, as if to say, "did you really mean that, or are you pulling my leg."  And she would nearly laugh. We had a great time sharing the show.

The perfect host:  The gracious Mary Lou Metzger today hosts many of the PBS reruns, making us believe all over again.

Now with this dazzling new reception, while it lasts,  the show may become, by blessed default, one of the highlights of my suddenly truncated TV-watching week. Three channels forces you to reduce your expectations and value more what remains.

So many things about the show invite wicked satire.  For the stage musical I am working on with composer Carl Danielsen, a subplot concerns an actress desperate to get cast in a NY show, trying out for a part in a new musical that spoofs Lawerence Welk.   We've written a song called "Bubbles."  It will be sung, with the other songs, in a first reading of the work, at Carl's New York townhouse in the Village next month.  Maybe one day the show will play Branson. 

And someday, perhaps, "Bubbles" will be sung on a Lawrence Welk special on PBS.  Maybe by then, I will be down to one channel.  Please, Comcast, make it local 22.  On a sinking ship, I think I'd prefer, for company, going down with the Welk Family.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

CBC RADIO The Podcast in Canada Talks About Cirque du Soleil's Recent Marketing Blunders

The Canadians, at least three of them, are as of the sobering moment, able to address realistically a troubling downward trend in Cirque du Soleil's fortunes.

Two critics discuss the issues on CBS Radio's The Podcast, hosted by Jian Ghomeshi, left.  I found it very interesting.

Essentially, they acknowledge marketing blunders in the last five years, when the show went from creating one new show each year to as many as three.

Another word they dare to drop is "mediocrity."

Yes to that.  I find this all rather refreshing, because Cirque has tended to receive generous regular support and praise from Canadian media and broadcasters.

They trace the beginning of this drastic drop in luck to Banana Shpeel.  Going to a Cirque show, they say, is now a matter of  "hit or miss."  Until Shpeel, the company virtually never produced a flop.  Now there are four or five turkeys in the barn.  And the number of Cirque staff laid off likely exceeds 400, as claimed by the show's PR office.

They are, as I see it, dead-on right about the utter failure of Iris in L.A., a prime reason being that tourists to Hollywood do not go there to see shows, but to view the area.

Another of their points is that Cirque may have wandered to far, artistically, from the product style which its original director, Franco Dragone, gave it in the early years, before he left.  I disagree.  Dragone had nothing to do with three of my four favorite CDS shows -- Varekai, OVO, and Kooza.

Also to their credit, they dismiss as excuse making Cirque's blaming its bum luck around  the world on earthquakes and economic downturns.

Here is a link.  Once there, you've got to move the marker to the right, beyond the half way point, to reach the point in the program when the Cirque matter is raised.  This is arguably criticism and reporting at its finest. 


Monday, January 21, 2013

A Risky High Wire that Cirque du Soleil (Recklessly?) Walks ...

From Showbiz David, November 4, 2008

Guy Laliberte, right, at the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood, 2007, touting the contract to produce Iris.

I’m not schooled in business matters, only have a lifetime of impressions, and I of course don’t have access to the books of Cirque du Soleil. I do know that: (1) the man in charge, Guy Laliberte, who relishes total power, only recently sold 20% interest in the show to some government owned firms in Dubai; (2) From a comment by Joe Brown posted on Sawdust Nights, of three new shows Laliberte opened this year around the world, only one, Zed in Japan, has drawn positive reviews (I read a rave by a Canadian critic calling it a masterpiece). Zaia is filling up only 30 percent of the seats — hard to believe — and, talking about hard to believe, the new Criss Angel magic show called Believe in Vegas IS hard to believe. In fact, it has turned critics back to critics and doting Cirque fans into critics; (3) Laliberte is under contract with yet other venues in the future years to deliver more multi-million dollar productions, the funding for which — and I’m only speculating here — might not yet even exist.

Now, in the world of Cirque, image perhaps is more important than anything else — even, hard to admit, maybe more important than the act. After all, they made a high-end art of stunning visuals from their masterful marketing strategies to every little light that twinkles under their dreamy designer tents, which themselves take weeks to erect. And so, a few bum shows could fast infect the public’s idyllic perception of Cirque du Soleil and cause a reverse run away from the box office. In other words, all other Cirque du Soliel shows stand to suffer from defeat by association. Especially in Vegas, is it doubly dangerous for Laliberte to be setting up a cheap third rate imitation of what he offered the public in superior seasons past. Ironically, Believe may not have been cheap at all if it actually cost $100 million to produce as reported. Which only goes to show, once again, that money can't buy everything.

A gambler at heart with a reported penchant (I have it on good inside sources) for thirsting after more power, more money, and more global conquests, high stakes poker player Guy Laliberte risks a huge global blowout. When the public stops believing that the magic will be there, it could well turn its limited amusement dollars onto other less costly diversions.

When Laliberte sold to Dubai, I felt, sadly, the beginning of his exit from the empire he had so masterfully built. I do not forget standing up and joining a five-minute ovation at the end of the first Cirque du Soleil tent show to hit the states, in Los Angels in 1987. An unforgettable moment. Perhaps it is now time for Cirque to reach back and restore, and put this mad franchising-out chase on hold -- before it’s too late. Before more unbelievably bad Cirque water-downs and hand-me-downs, self-cloned rip offs and on-the-fly make-dos drive the public elsewhere. Already, Cirque’s fan base is noting a certain flattening out of the product.

Lalibert is under contract with the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood to open a show there in 2010. Although he may deliver the perfect answer to a venue that has struggled to find an audience, somehow, I can’t quite imagine tourists who are drawn to the Hollywood Boulevard walk-of-fame scene wanting to coup themselves up in a theatre to watch Montreal’s version of Hollywood, when the real thing is right there outside in all its seedy and tattered glory. This could be another unbelievable misfire from the man who can’t stop his assembly line addiction. In the end, Laliberte’s dazzling risk-taking nature could produce his own downfall.

Hope I’m wrong. For when Cirque delivers another Varakei or Kooza, I’ll be the first in line to buy a ticket. In those two forms, I very much believe.

Original posted November 4, 2008

Sunday, January 20, 2013

China's Giant New Circus Forum Promises Greater Global Attention to the Big Top

Now under construction in the Jimei District of Xiamen, in southeastern China, this new 10,000 seat arena, claimed to be the largest permanent circus forum in the world, will be ready to entertain at the 17th annual China International Fair & Trade show, in September.  Ground was broken only last September.  Things happen fast in the Middle Kingdom.

Sawdust aficionados of means and manners may wish to book air travel and hotel space soon.

To be known as  Xiamen Ling Ling International Circus,  the seaside hard top will supersede in size the Chimelong International Circus in Guangzhou, which itself handles 7.000 spectators. 

International is the operative word:  A news release promises that  "professional circus performers from 26 countries will stage magic shows, circus acts and acrobatic shows."

The Chinese are not only taking gloriously to the air to create inventive new flying acts, thus expanding their staid repertory of ground-bound acts that marked their stage shows for centuries, they are also apparently encouraging the importation of performing animals into their larger programs. 

While, historically, the famed acrobatic troupes of China have never followed the example of American three-ring showmanship, in recent years they have ingeniously adapted Cirque du Soleil modes of advanced presentation.  Thus are they breaking free of time-worn performance traditions to fashion their own exciting new productions, more creatively designed, paced, and directed.  For the full-course meal, tanbark tourists are encouraged to include Beijing and Shanghai in their Chinese portfolios.

Perhaps this new arena will serve as a refuge for a number of displaced ex-Cirque du Soleil artsts, out of work in the wake of Cirque's shutting down a parade of failed ventures around the world.

Look for international festivals in Xiamen.  And expect, increasingly a more diversified spread of sawdust action  from the redoubtable Chinese.  No longer just hoops, spinning plates, hat juggling exchanges, and pole climbing. 

Good news for the future of circus everywhere!

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Cirque du Soleil Falling? Show Suffers Serial Flops in Tokyo, NY, LA, Machao, Vegas. Montreal Office Lays Off 400 Workers

Showbiz David Foresaw Trouble Ahead in 2008. See Post Following this Post

 Cirque du Soleil history in three days: Iris will close in Los Angeles this Saturday.

The Los Angeles Times reported  today that Cirque du Soleil's Iris, which performs on Hollywood Boulevard at the Dolby Theatre (formerly, the Kodak), will close down this Saturday, following "weak box office results."

That is abrupt.  And that is not a good omen. Iris opened in 2011, and was slated to run for 10 years.   The Times contacted the show's Montreal office for comment, but none was offered.

This last year has seen a number of CDS productions fail and fold: Tokyo said no to Zed.    Viva Elvis shuttered early in Las Vegas; Zaia did not click in Macao. Earlier, Banana Shpeel flopped out on Broadway at the Beacon theatre, following generally scathing notices. Another New York contender, Zarkana, only lasted for two summers at Radio City Music Hall, leaving Laliberte once again short of a permanent presence in the Big Apple which he had long hungered to establish.

Back in 2007-2008, the Cirque king rode high over the world's entertainment crossroads, signing one contract after another to produce yet another new show, anidst the flash of admiring press cameras from L.A. to Dubai.  Five years later, the landscape has turned barren, inhospitable.  The company will lay off  400 people, representing 8% of its world-wide workforce.

The significance?  I have long questioned Cirque's over saturation of markets. As for Iris, I believed, and stated here, that only if the show was an outright blockbuster, might it have a decent chance on the very tricky intersection of Hollywood and Highland. The reviews were generally good. Not all that great, however.

Is the company in deep trouble for its serial misfires? It all depends on Laliberte's state of mind, and whether or not he wishes to resolve himself to go the greater distance. If he hangs in, the challenge, as I see it, will be whether he can accept downsizing intelligently, and scaling back. And finding ways to offset the imagery of redundant dance-acrobatics.  He is a man who thirsts after power through expansion. He may have to curb his habit for a few years. And he may have to pull another big magic revolution out of his hat. Second acts are hellishly difficult to bring off.

Animals, Guy?

The story ahead should be interesting to watch.  

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Monte Carlo 36th Festival Reviewed by London Critic

Note: I am reprinting in full this notice from Stage Reviews, based in London. This appears to have been posted midway; Seems Gold Clowns went to acrobats from Germany and China, no surprise. This is valid criticism of the sort you virtually never will get in the U.S. I won’t keep it posted here long, but you can easily link to the site, listed below -- S.D.


36th Monte Carlo International Circus Festival

Published Tuesday 24 January 2012 at 18:01 by Liz Arratoon

Programme One

Circus fans can never get enough big-top action, and this year Monaco has two major events taking place virtually back to back. The 36th international circus festival precedes the inaugural new generation circus by just a week. The timing is strange because it clashes with Budapest’s established circus festival, which has upset those who want to see both.

However, the first night of competition for Monte Carlo’s prestigious gold, silver and bronze clowns and special prizes - including those given by Carol Gandey, Blackpool Tower Circus, the Great British Circus and English artist Spencer Hodge - is the business at hand. And how the advertised Freddy Nock - one of the world’s most daring high-wire artists - was missed.

The opening act, Morocco’s acrobatic artists of the Cherifian Troupe, wear white costumes decorated with red - Monaco’s national colours, which are much in evidence all evening. Used to working on sand, they need no fast track or trampoline to execute the most amazing series of lightning-fast somersaults. They build human pyramids, a four-high column and one bearer supports nine other men, who weigh in at 600kg.

When the brother/sister Skating Pilar duo appear, the crowd reacts as if they’ve never seen a roller-skating act before, or is their enthusiasm simply because the act is French? It is an exciting and artistic display that includes a neck-to-neck spin, Jonathan circling with Solenn hanging from his neck by just one foot, or spinning her by one foot with her face mere inches from their raised platform.

French-Canadian Erika Lemay has won a barrel-load of awards at festivals worldwide. With the ring bathed in red light, and wearing the same colour, she writhes artily on the ground before taking to the air on a constantly revolving hoop. She is neat and quick and shows off her extreme flexibility, as well as making use of the rope, but her skeletal frame detracts from the aesthetic.

Hungary’s Steve Eleky is a big bloke in a kilt and tailcoat, who comes in to Scotland the Brave and has been inspired, shall we say, by Tommy Cooper. He is quite good with cigar boxes, but his cod magic and juggling obviously amuse him more than anyone else. He returns after the interval for more of the same silliness.

Rene Casselly Snr from Germany produces a really striking number with four elephants and four horses all ridden by outrageously attractive girls in black and red costumes and feathered headdresses. He directs them from horseback, zipping them through their paces. The highlight is the synchronised dressage by one of each.

The clean-cut Bingo Troupe won bronze here at the 27th festival, but this time they have gone all punky and moody. Ukrainian contortionist Daria Shcherbyna strikes some innovative poses on a high plinth surrounded by the mass of dancers and five musicians. But they only serve as a distraction from her sinuous moves.

Arabic chanting and music sets a sultry atmosphere for Duo Israfilov, who represent Moscow’s Bolshoi Circus and have created a love story on aerial straps. Allakverdi Israfilov literally takes Galina Golovachesa’s life in his hands and supports her in a daring series of moves, including a breathtaking iron-jaw hold as she hangs from his mouth. Later he hangs from her foot as she is suspended in the splits. Ouch.

China’s Shanghai Acrobatic Troupe have pulled out all the stops with a huge and highly technical production number. It involves a teeterboard, with new moves as the flyers land on other artists standing on perch poles, or are launched and caught by a trapeze-style catcher. There are amazing somersaults on stilts, but the military precision of their marching, discordant music and the general jumble of equipment and people spoil the effect.

After the interval, Vladislav Goncharov adopts a cheeky-chappy persona for his overlong tap-dancing presentation of eight sleepy lions. Jauntily dressed in bowler hat and red jacket, he struts about the precariously insecure looking cage - no roof and made of rope mesh - occasionally getting them to do a trick. Three leap over another three simultaneously, he carries one on his shoulders and stuffs his head into another’s mouth.

Artists from Brazil and Argentina make up the thrilling flying trapeze troupe the Flying Zunigas. Evelin and Angel, the women, are not just there for glamour as they pass each other in mid-air. There is little actual flight because the flyers leave their bar exactly where the catcher arrives, but the main trick sees Serginho perform a triple somersault with pirouette.

There is a muted reception for the cabaret-style Duo Rubsov jugglers, but they deserve better. Their extremely stylish act, in which they juggle red hats, is cleverly choreographed to a tango rhythm - always popular in the circus - and they work unsighted back-to-back and include a bit of hand balancing. Maxim also juggles on top of a column of chairs, where there is no room for error.

Czech Duo Stipka are one of the night’s highlights with their pas de deux on horseback. Dany stands astride two massive black horses and guides his sister, Denisa, in a series of daring somersaults while circling the ring. The finale is a real showstopper as she stands on one leg on his head, somehow maintaining her balance despite the trotting motion. But eight central electric fans billowing lengths of gauze around are ill considered.

The other truly stunning act of the night is China’s Cai Yong. This acrobatic hand-balancer in the style of Anatoly Zalievsky is as strong on either arm and combines strength, balance and grace. He seems to build energy using martial arts techniques to deliver a dramatic and beautiful act that is truly worthy of gold. Moving easily from handstand to planche and back three times, he ends by spinning on a pedestal that telescopes up from his platform.

It is hard for the nine men and three girls who make up the troupe from the Mongolian Circus to follow Cai’s ovation. Sheer shows of strength lifting kettlebells mix with banquine acrobatics and column building, backed by a strange rapping throat singer. The finish is an intricate tableau of ten bodies stacked four-high.

The acts are interspersed with entrees by the Russian clown Bobylev, which are all mercifully swift. He saves the best for last when he collars three boys from the audience and engages them in a water-pistol fight, making sure they get a good soaking when he surprises them by spurting water from his rucksack.

But the evening’s finale is ruined when the Infernal Varanne globe of death motorbike riders are unable to perform because their twin spheres have been left outside and condensation means they keep slipping. After the disappointment of the previous night, Infernal Varanne open the second programme. It is an electrifying act as two, then three riders rocket around inside two mesh metal globes, missing each other by millimetres and at times riding with just one hand on the bars. But the logistics of moving one globe out of the ring for the final trick - when six riders speed round a woman standing in their midst - dilute the tension and make everyone wonder why they hadn’t used just one in the first place.

Programme Two

The Cherifian Troupe perform again but this time dressed as pirates. Maybe once in costume would have been enough.

A goat riding on the back of a donkey is not something you see every day, but Alexandra Probst - from the famous farmyard-animal specialist family - presents a mixed group of goats, pigs, donkeys, a dog and some weird little chicken things. This rather sweet act of animal magic has a gentle pace and a touch of comedy provided by her mother, Mercedes.

They are followed by a more traditional form of clowning from the Spanish white-face and auguste musical clowns, the Mitchells, whose silly trick with eggs and expert slapstick antics with water cause a lot of hilarity. The elegant British white-face sporting a glittery suit of orange sequins is Giulia Michel Azzario, twin sister of Wanda Azzario-Goldberg, who ends her 30-year career with the Skating Willers in La Soiree at London’s Roundhouse on January 29.

Then, slinky, sexy and strong equilibrists, the Azzario Sisters - the stand-out act of the festival, who happen to be the Mitchells’ daughters - cause a sensation. It helps that they are stunningly attractive, with their hair pulled back into chic chignons and wearing super-stylish outfits of glittered bras and slim black trousers. Their moves, including a tricky head-to-head balance, are precisely timed and choreographed to another tango. They finish with Quincy standing on Katie’s head on one hand while she climbs up and down a fixed ladder. At their second appearance when the lunge malfunctions, they simply carry on without one, which helps earn them a silver clown. Polished and professional, they are perfect.

Marc Metral is a brilliant ventriloquist but technical problems with his mic don’t help him. He starts with puppets but goes on to give different voices to a live dog and four members of the audience.

The Bingo Troupe have another number, this time on three static trapezes, with a duo at the front and two more girls behind them, but there is so much peripheral activity that unless you keep your eyes fixed on the main event, you’re likely to miss some excellent and intricate work.

Many athletes are extending their careers by joining the circus. Flying to the Stars is a group of five male Ukrainian gymnasts who appear on two parallel high bars set above a trampoline, but some jazzy make-up and a bit of glitter on their outfits has not turned these sportsmen into circus artists.

The lions are back after the interval, as is Bobylev. Between them, the rather severe-looking Ekaterina Shavrina takes to the air on swinging trapeze. This is the sort of act that would be impossible without a lunge, and that makes it pointless for purists.

Mercedes Probst has her own number with 20 miniature Shetland and Welsh ponies sporting orange and black plumes to match her dress. It’s like a stampede as she puts them through some impressive manoeuvres.

Lemay makes a second appearance, this time with a dramatic dancy hand-balancing affair, but although she strikes some extraordinary poses, she looks slightly off form with a few wobbles. Her nude glitter bodysuit, which would have been gorgeous on anyone with some curves, made her skinny frame look more alien than alluring.

Ty Tojo is a 13-year-old juggling prodigy who has already won many awards. At eight he won first prize at the Colorado Juggling Festival, so his pedigree is as impeccable as his technique. He juggles five balls for an age with breathtaking ease, then does the same behind his back, before moving up to seven balls. As his best trick, this comes a bit early in the act, but then he adds in various props and finishes with a flourish with cigar boxes.

Alexia and Rene Casselly Snr are back with an astonishing routine in which their 15-year-old son Rene and daughter Merry-Lu leap and somersault between two elephants positioned with their heads touching. The self-assured Rene Jnr is propelled from a teeterboard stamped on by one elephant and lands an amazing series of somersaults on another’s back. These include a triple, and one landed on his sister’s shoulders.

The evening’s finale is the Vorobievs’ double Russian swing act. This act, with its stunning sequence of mind-boggling somersaults between the swings, impressed many people who were willing to overlook the many fluffed landings, hideous costumes, ridiculous dancing girls, appalling music and nails-scraping-down-a-blackboard shriek emitted by one of the girls after every single move.

This lack of attention to the overall aesthetic is a regular feature in acts that prepare routines especially for Monte Carlo. If only director Urs Pilz imitated the great British circus impresario Bertram Mills, who was famed for his quality shows because he took only the most dazzling moments from his acts. This would cut the marathon programmes and mean the audience leaves elated, not enervated, by the thrilling spectacle.

Director: Urs Pilz

Running time:
programme one, 4hrs 15mins/programme two, 4hrs 15mins

Sunday, January 13, 2013

This One's for Britland, Where Showbiz David Now Graces a Posh Kitchen Wall in Southhampton

 I hear from the Brits, and so they shall hear from me.

Just call me David Chipperfield, poster child from a vanishing line of Brit bit top lords, before they gutted the sawdust of raw dust.  Soon, retrospectively speaking, will the image in which I appear, the taller bloke on display in the photo above, be hanging high in the United Kingdom, gazing down upon Steve and Kirsten Robinson whenever they convene in their Chilworth, Southampton kitchen over mysterious meat pies, scones, veggies (do they have those in the UK?) high or low tea.

Had I foreseen this fateful leap in my global presence, I might have rented lordly locks for the photo shoot,  Or Beatled my bangs.  The Robinsons, you see, reside in the very home where Mary Chipperfield once lived, where, in her lively garden, performing monkeys vacationed on the off season.

After purchasing the home, those royal Robinsons (anybody who hangs me on their wall is royal in my book) caught the circus bug, and have embarked on Chipperfieldian scholarship.  Sad, the big top scene over there seems more looking back than forward or even sideways these diminishing days. Their digging goggled them to my blog, to the photo in my extreme youth that people seem to like.  To me they wrote,  "We love the photo of you in the old truck."  They were hoping for a higher resolution, "... as this would make an amazing picture for a feature wall in the house."

Courier &  Ives, have I a future?

I sent them the digital image, itself a scan off a color photo made from an Argus slide, shot in Scotland when I lived there for a long enchanting spell in the mid-'60s.

Giddy over my awesome acquiescence (I am so easy -- well, sometimes), iChirped Steve from his iPad. "That's fantastic, David. My very clever wife has already tweaked it so we can enlarge and have as a picture on our kitchen wall.  You will be watching over us at every meal!"

Okay, kids, and watch your you know what.  No Agatha Raisin microwaved stomach crunchers. (Fish and chips slathered with salt and vinegar, wrapped in newspaper, will melt my caustic glare to ravishing envy, so go ahead and make my day.)

Me and They:  Like maybe millions, my family traces its variable roots back to one Admiral Byrd.  Thus, my wonderful later mother, Mary Byrd Lewis.  I'm supposed to be one quarter English, another quarter Welsh, with maybe a dash of the Irish thrown in.  Other side: One quarter Swed, another, Bohemian.

Here, following, are some Chipperfield Circus images from the original post of December 2, still intact, down a fair scroll, to which I've added a few more, roused by Jim Stockley's comment.  Sorry, Jim, as I recall, my Argus did not behave well in color under canvas. A pity.

Cheerio, my curatorial Chilworthians!


So circus fanish of me [on the truck]-- posing as if I owned the show.  I, too, was young once.

Inside the big Chipper tent, during set up.  Perhaps somebody across the Big Pond will recognized this man.

On the back of this photo, I wrote  "This man (right), a prop man, took me all over the lot and behind the scenes

Such cozy, well tended little mobile home caravan.  A far cry from your typical Kelly Miller Circus lot in the states (sorry, John and Jim, I just couldn't resist).

At the front door. I wonder if the lady on the right is a known circus person.

Looking back upon the Chipperfield program magazine, it's remarkable how loaded the show was with animal acts, almost one after another.  Thirteen of some 18 one-ring displays!  One was Zira, "the girl who swims with crocodiles (I have a hazy image of her act).  At Roberts Bros. Circus, the same year, of 25 displays, only 8  hailed from the menagerie.

According to the program, Dickie Chipperfield worked the elephants.

A bonus, on the breezy Brit boards.  We are at the Gaiety Theatre in --- "Oh, the air is lovely in Ayr!"  Oh, how I loved those salty two-a-night music hall variety shows -- 6:15 and 8:30.  So smartly paced by amusing skits, songs, and dancing production numbers.  In Glasgow, the Pavilion with Lex McClain,  and the Metropole, among other houses.  Nothing like 'em!  I got to know a Gaiety director Max Norris, had tea at his little apartment in Ayr, showed him some of my writing, he took it to read, and later sent me a nice letter, offering clear crisp commentary on lyrical lampooning. So, you might say I was tutored in the U.K. [see what I mean about trying then to take a photo indoors]

A land of graceful beauty.  A land that fog makes love to.

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

California's Gold Huell Howser, A Rarity, Passes Away on Sunday

One of a kind, and that's no cliche, Huelle Howser, who passed away on Sunday in Palm Springs, was, believe it or not, one reason why I value TV. I never felt I was wasting my time.  With Howser,  you could either be walking through the redwoods, exploring a famous mansion, watching a restoration expert keep an old player piano in operation.

TV is like a magazine store.  You can find plenty to enjoy and value.  You can wallow in rubbish, if that's your thing.

Howser and a camera man hit the road up and down the state, stopped to walk country lanes, gardens, museums, old buildings and bridges. To gawk over the Golden Gate Bridge, be awed by the Watts Towers, view people on family farms working harvest, enjoy Jack London's Valley of the Moon retreat in the wine country.  And always being filled with pleasure, every step of the way.    He talked to average people making a living in factories or restaurants.  He was awe-shucks all over the map.  But something rang true about this native Tennessean, who served in the Marine Corp, and then landed jobs as a news reporter for TV stations in NY then LA.

Twenty five years ago, he started producing his California Gold series.  Here are some images of recent shows (all of them reruns) which I snapped off my TV.

Howser challenged us to slow down, examine a blade of grass, listen for the sound of hot water bubbling just under the sand on a beach. He challenged us to savor the moment, to learn and appreciate. In his own way, he was an authentic self-created television genius.

He also took on serious topics, on one show, extended to a full hour, running home movies taken during the Japanese internment camps of World War II -- movies taken by the Japenese internees themselves. Here are some snippets.

From its inception, television offered friendship. That has always been, I believe, its most enduing draw. Huell Howser came across as a genuine friend, keen to share, ready to find another sunset, another rainbow of flowers to share and admire.  He was all about mostly the simple things, which in the end, are what life is really all about.

Monday, January 07, 2013

Hard News into TV Entertainment: I'm Breaking the Habit

A quiet concise voice for reason amidst the cable news wars: Scott Pelley

In the last week, two things happened in my life, intersecting in a way that left me with a resolve to cut my cable service way back, leaving me without CNN and FOX, for starters.  When I dropped TCM a couple of years ago for another package that includes TV Land (just so I could see Betty White in "Hot in Cleveland"), with it came, to my surprise, CNN and Fox. Gradually, they turned me into a news junkie.  Only last week, when I kept losing the Comcast signal and felt degrees of withdrawal, did I come to terms with a  wasteful habit. No more!

The other thing was far more sobering, but it relates:   

When I went to school many years ago, under our desks we would "duck and cover," practicing what to do in case Russian bombs dropped over our small little town of Santa Rosa.

Today, kids still sometimes duck and cover. They also practice lock down, just in case one of their own breaks through in a rage, armed with enough "rounds" to take out a small country.

The enemy now is not them. The enemy now is us.

In China a few days ago, a man with knife entered a classroom and slashed away  through and over 20 helpless students.    Two were seriously injured, all survived.  Said to be "mentally deranged," in Connecticut, with far more than a knife, he may have killed dozens or more.

Here in the U.S., we haul out the usual experts-- by the hours around the clock on cable news outlets -- to explain away the mayhem  on  mental lunacy and every other reason except the vulgar and violent cultural currents of this country's history.  The experts and their enablers in effect  white wash a reality far more grim and real and enduring -- the obscene proliferation of guns in this country.  I could say a lot, but let me quote from Sunday's  New York Times, wherein Nicholas D. Kristof puts this latest "harrowing" episode in stark context:

"The tragedy isn't one school shooting, it's the unceasing toll across the country.  More Americans die in gun homicides and suicides in six months than have died in the last 25 years in every terrorist attack and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq combined."

In a tragically perverse way, yes, America, you are quite "exceptional."

Back when we ducked and covered, the evening news lasted 15 minutes until it was expanded to a half hour.  Fine. So, I had to ask myself, why on some days do I allow the cables a few hours of my time rehashing over and over, asking and arguing the same questions over and over, mud slinging back and forth, about the current crisis or schoolyard shooting at hand?  Why?   The repetition alone, come to think of it, might be harmful to my mental health.

On CBS, I have come to respect and appreciate news anchorman Scott Pelley.  He brings a  wonderful and very professional quiet dignity to the desk, and this, I find refreshing.  His colleagues do good investigative reporting.  He gives me the news in thirty minutes.  That is sufficient, just as it was back in the days when I ducked and covered, fearing an unknown enemy from another country -- but never from my own.

I'm looking forward to defaulting back to the "limited basic" channels.  Less is far better.   I can still see Huell Howser's richly informative California Gold.  Still watch Bill Moyer's Journal, and Scott Pelley host the CBS evening news.  Sure, I will miss History (their recent programs on U.S. business giants and the history of life on earth have been marvelous), and I may have to watch Betty White on my PC, a bummer.  Maybe, if I play hard, I can get History and TV Land from Comcast or AT&T -- without all the dozens of other channels they try to shove down our throats.  This time, on my terms or no terms. 

But I've had it with American TV culture.  I'm saying  No. No. No.  I refuse to participate in the commercial exploitation of American violence and vulgarity.

Thank you, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, for your guts.  Please run for President of the United States.  You might be our only hope.


A Cirque du Bomb on Film? Majority of First Reviews Pan "Worlds Away 3D"


The movie came in at number 14, down near the bottom, at $1,265,000, a drop of -47.3% from the previous week's take. Indeed, it seems worlds away...

If only the movie were as good as the poster. Well, maybe it is.  A few critics like it.  But the   overwhelming negatives, from major to minor reviewers on Rotten Tomatoes, are so not good.

Maybe they  should have stuck to 2d.  When will the experts ever realize that 3d will likely NEVER take hold?  I was a kid when it first came out.  Terrific things flying off the screen at me!   The novelty lasted for a year or two.

Surfing through Rotten Tomatoes tonight to record highly scored recent films for inclusion on my advance Netflix Que, just for the fun I wondered how the new film Cirque du Soliel Worlds Away is faring with movie critics.  In a word, NOT.  [the color green on Rotten Tomatoes signifies a negative review]

The GREEN ratings:  53%

Top Critics, GREEN:  50%

For example, this from Slate:   "The movie is something of a compositional nightmare, worlds away, one might say, from the artistry so associated with Cirque."

Audience review from Luciano Malacria:  "I find there is no point in making a movie about a circus when you can just go to a circus."

Notice the HORSES in the poster?  How daring of CDS!

Mark my words, kiddies.  You will live to see Cirque du Soleil performing animals!

Sir Harry of Kingston, will you join me on that historic occasion, ringside?  I will bring some personally delivered John Ringling North II Peterson Peanuts for us to crack.

Believe in the essence of true circus.  Cirque may yet backslide irretrievably into artistic completeness.