Friday, January 26, 2018

Monte Carlo Gold to Shanghai Acrobats, Richter Animals .... Colossal Ueckert Circus Collection to The Milner ... Big Apple Circus to the Road Without Grandma ...

Enter Princess Stephanie and Circusdome's Royal Family

Once again, Asian acrobats shine in the circus world’s most honored spotlights.  One of two Gold Clowns handed out at the recent 42nd competition went to the Shanghai Acrobatic Troupe, the other to the extraordinary animal acts of the Richters –  and how pictures of them inspire.  One Silver Clown was awarded to D'Argent Prosvirnin Duo Stauberti Duo Balance.  And two acts received the Bronze: the inner Mongolian Acrobats Duo 2-Zen-O, and the Troupe Vavilov Michael Ferrerir performing on monocycles.  A shower of other awards, as well, from different groups, made the festival a glorious affirmation of great good  cheer.  Touring these dazzling images, how impressed,  proud, and hopeful I feel for the future of world circus arts. Thank you for another spectacular showcase,  Princess Stephanie!

Colossal Collection, Sarasota to Normal: 250,000 circus items bequeathed to the Milner Library at Illinois State University by partners Herb Ueckert and Neil Cockerline.  I had no idea that  Herb, a retired school librarian, was such a prolific collector.  In a statement he issued through ISU, said Ueckert,  “We are absolutely thrilled they have accepted our collection and look forward to seeing the items shared and used for educating ISU students and the larger public.”  Thrilled to accept was the Milnar’s  Special Collection librarian, Maureen Brunsale,  seen above, at her post since 2008, calling it “the largest donation during my time here ... When you think of circuses, these are the kinds of things you think of ... I would love to be able to show this stuff off." ... The awesome archival acquisition follows another formidable gift — the papers of none other than Henry Ringling North.  All of which should give CFA circus fans, who convene for their annual convention in Normal, come April, reason, I suspect, to await tantalizing previews of the goodies from Brunsdale & Company ... Take your bows, mighty Milner!


END RINGERS:   Carson & Barnes Circus is on the road. Show opened season in McAllen, TX, there now through Feb. 5. ...  Watching old Ed Sullivan TV programs — my, did Ed know how to pace a program  — the occasional circus act, unadorned by modern day pretensions, reminding me of how wonderful it was, long ago, when watching a circus act on its own terms was easier to appreciate and enjoy, and more than enough ... Do you know the name Deyanira Rosales?  I do now, having been blown away by her dazzling hula hoop routine on a video John Ringling North II sent me, of the last performance of Kelly Miller under his ownership. WOW!  You older ones, think of Francis Brunn manipulating hula hoops like he juggled clubs over his body.  The best damn act on the show.  And from a garden variety hula hoop  hater, that’s the kiss of exaltation.  Indeed, one of only two hula hoop acts I can recall sitting through that swept me away, the other being the wondrous work of a Russian kid with Jim Judkin’s old Circus Chimera, whose mother dazzled equally well with big box illusion ... What a segue -- I’m hoping that Jim, Kelly Miller’s new owner to the rescue, will route his show out my way into markets he played annually with Chimera.  We are in desperate need of a real circus out here, Jim!   But, please, at least give us a dog act.
, .
And finally, about Grandma and Barry Lubin. I think we are all suffering a silently shared shock and sadness over what recently happened.  It hit me hard.  I’ve read the New York Times report at least five times, and find it somewhat meager.  I do not know what to say, and so I will not say much, other than to express my great sorrow and sadness to all parties concerned, and to note that sometimes a fuller truth not known in the beginning may eventually surface ... This will not diminish my respect for the wonderful character that Barry created, a character I hope will ultimately live on in some form.  Most of all, I feel a deep sadness for the American Circus, at a time when it struggles to reverse an ominous downward trend, and so, the best I can do is to end this on a note of admonition, to quote from my musical, Those Ringings:

The show must go on,
must be moved every night
If you love it, you shove it,
you push, you pull,
and you fight! 

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

MIDWAY FLASH! ... Showbiz David Called "Borderline Racist" in Amazon Book Review .... Has He Finally Reached Prime Time, He Wonders ...

Full disclosure:  I have never asked a single person to post a review for any of my books on Amazon.

For the most part, I believe my books have been fairly reviewed by Amazon consumers.   Only twice have I been savaged, by somebody working an agenda, I believed, but never on a circus title. 

Recently, very recently, checking up on two of my books, I came upon very good news and very bad news.

First, the good:

FALL OF THE BIG TOP: When it was published, it garnered  a couple of good reviews on Amazon, and a 2-star stinker, my being accused of “a lot of whining and ranting about the old days."    I could see how it might have been my fault, in not making clear that the narrator, a guy called Sage, was  meant to have a voice of wistful regret, going a little poetic in his exclusive hold over a small crowd of people having arrived on a near deserted midway to see a circus.  Yes,a little tongue-in-cheek, I thought.  On this count, I wish I had done a better job at the outset of setting up and defining Sage.  (I talk about this in my book, Big Top Typewriter)

Well, let the whining and ranting take a bow.  Yesterday, I discovered to my elation  a five star review on Amazon, posted by one Hugh Lowther, about whom I know nothing.  I checked on his other book reviews, and there are dozens of them on a wide range of subjects. Of a few other circus titles he has reviewed, he gave four stars to The Circus Fire, only two stars to The Great Circus Train Wreck, and four to The Hartford Circus Fire.

Surely, he was well prepared for the adversity that opens my book on that fateful day in Pittsburgh. I had often wondered about its placement.  Now, I’m glad I put it there.

Okay, onto the bad news, I guess -- to my alleged status as a "borderline racist"

INSIDE THE CHANGING CIRCUS: When the book came out, it received two good reviews, a five and a four star.  Now comes a blast to deflate my air, if there is any left in my ego.  Me, a racist?  My mind scrambled to recall, defaulting to the usual object of such complaint.  What had I said about or referring to  African Americans?

No, turns out that BaderState Transplant, the Amazon critic, was offended by a term I've coined and often used, "The Mexican Family Plan," meaning a family of Mexican performers with varied talents, bringing many acts to a show, some average or below, one or two possibly outstanding, and likely a good bargain for your typical struggling circus owners.  But let me quote my new accuser: 

"The final nail in the coffin for me was his borderline racism. He often referred to shows use Latinx circus performers as using the 'Mexican family plan.' It doesn't matter that a large amount of these families come from Central and South America, he lumps all Latinx performers as Mexican."

I checked Transplant's other reviews, of which there are six, one of another circus book -- five stars for Paul Binder's tome with that impossible-to-remember-spell title about Sea Lions, a book I also much enjoyed. Congrats, Paul!   And, please, another? ....

What can I say?  I'll  only note, that on this very blog, I recently raved about one of the top acts that appeared on Jim Judkin's Circus Chimera: Alex Chimal.  The gifted juggler came with a Mexican Family Plan, THANK YOU, Chimal family.  And Gaonas and Vazquez, and on and on ...

This borderline jolt has caused me to wonder:  whenever I criticize a white circus performer, am I not also being a racist?  And if I am, who will accuse me of the sin but another person of my own color?  White performers matter too!

ALREADY GONE TOO FAR, David. No, No.  I could have a field day with this one.  Oh, could I ever.  I'm putting a gag order on myself.  NO MORE.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Euro Ice Nationals Transcend Quad Mania ... Young Russian's Brilliant Blades Make the Big Trick Secondary ... Tara Lipinski Commentary Merits the Mute Button

Dimitri Aliev is the name.  And how many quads did he execute?  Funny, I have no idea, if any.  I know I was mesmerized by the totality of his generous program.

And how refreshing a break from last week, when over here we were driven to count count count quads. All the talk dominated by quad obsession.  He may do five!   Oh, well, he did get in two!
That was a surprise, we had not seen that quad coming!

And how narrow a focus, reducing the event to a one-theme contest.  Great figure skaters should sweep us up into a journey of flight. I caught the top rated  men in finals and posted my own grades.   I gave Dimitri my highest score -- 94, my second highest, 92, to the commanding Spaniard, Javier Lopez Fernandez, a little more athletic, if only he had not missed or smeared several ill-fated landings.  He seems to hold the "reputation" factor.  Between the two men, the competition in Korea next month should be fierce.

This event was never intended to be a showdown over just one item.  The ridiculous focus on quads --- seems more prevalent over here --- shoves us into a fixation on just that one component, rendering all the other jumps and the spins less important,  the routines less wholly satisfying. 

Leave it to Russia to show us the way.  And the way is only 18-years-old.  Dimitri is a compelling artist on blades, from his mastery of big tricks to an interlocking choreography that does not seem secondary at all.  A sublime pleasure to watch, his body movements forming fluid sculptures in motion.  Rare to have artistry and athleticism so evenly matched.

And what a surprise, his routine was over, already?  I  couldn't believe how fast it went - the mark of a skater's avoiding middle-of-the-program slumping and slippage. Other than one failed landing, Aliev was near perfection.

Commentary from hell

About the side line critics:  I rather enjoyed, actually could appreciate the brevity of Johnny Weir's  remarks, certainly compared to the annoying jack hammer banter of  Tara Lipinski, who sounds like a stock market analyst rattling off facts and figures.    Seems to me that a skater's performance, like that of any talent show competitor, should be, for the most part,  critiqued after the event, not during it.  I don't need the condescending  Ms. Lipinski to tell me what I can actually see for myself.  She is such an in-our-face annoyance, that I may turn down the sound while trying to watch the Olympics, or I may skip the whole damn thing altogether.

Monday, January 08, 2018

Ice Dancing at Figure Skating Nationals - a Refreshing Break from Quad Mania ... What Grant Hotchstein Shows Us ...

Sanity amidst the madding crowd: Grant Hotchstein

Watching men's singles at the Nationals, it felt as if I had been away for ages. I recall when a few of the best men were turning a quad.  I said, a quad. I returned to witness an insane obsession with but one goal: FIVE QUADS.
Where have I been?   He did five!    Oh, how brilliant, that's four quads  ... only one to go to hold his place! ...  He is absolutely on fire with the quad. This sport is rocking!  Look, another!  Are you kidding? No, no, who knows, he may try for a sixth!

Pardon me, you raving Hamilton cheerleaders, but am I watching an ice skating competition --- or a reality TV stunt skating contest?  This giddy preoccupation with quantity effectively renders second or third rate all of the other items.  The fourth quad down, and, and, and ....  FIVE!  Nailed!  ...  In the bag! ....

I am bored already.  How about half a dozen?  Or better yet, a mandatory cap on the maximum number allowed.  Oh, say ... a thousand?

There was one lone skater in men's finals who did not produce a winning routine, with too many passive sections, but gradually he earned my respect with his artfully expressive moves, some of them thrilling. He looked lost in the pack, a stranger from another time and place, and  I was reminded of saner days that delivered more fully satisfying free style routines.   I think his name is Grant Hochstein.  He missed his true calling. He should have been a dance skater.  Let the vulgarians chase the quinny.

The hucksters who run this so-called sport should cut the pretensions and  carve out a new, more honest and potentially more gripping event, guaranteed to inflate crowd size.

In this more athletically pure event, no music allowed, each skater will have to execute a set list of items in fixed order -- such as axle, salchow, camel, chop suey, loop-the-lutz, traveling camel, upside down camel, and then onto mandatory jumps -- single, double, triple, quad.  And by God, as many of those as he/she can bring off, the first one missed spelling sudden death.  Option:  After completing a quad and then, and then, landing a QUINNY (quintuple), INSTANT victory.

For this mathematically scored challenge, a file clerk from the outside will check off each item completed.  Only one fall allowed.  As for sloppy landings, a panel of judges will deduct points from the score based on three degrees of slop:  Barely missed.  Heroically clinging.  Creatively executed.  This will keep the door to trickery slightly ajar, where judges can still make their under-the-table deals with each other for mutual score fixing.

ONTO DANCE, and please,no quads!

Hubbell and Donahue

I was appalled at how the pairs team of Kayne and O'Shea, were robbed of first place, and then outraged when I learned that only the first place team, Sciemeca and Knerium, won a spot on the Olympic team. So, once again skeptical of the judging, I took out pencil and paper during the last five free dance teams, to seriously look at each and commit a sore of my own prior to the judging marks being made known.  You may have done this on occasion, too.  It''s fun.  Here are my scores (1-100), in order of ranking, with a few words describing my overall reaction, and then, on the next line, how the judges graded each:

Hubbell and Donahue  Compelling creativity   93
               judges: 197.2

Shibutani and Shibutani  Accomplished  91
              judges   196,93

Hawyayek and  Bake  Dancing on waves:  90
                 Judges  187.61

Chock and Bates:  Hard working  75
                 Judges:  196.60

Parsons and Parsons    Humdrum:  72
                 Judges:  176.01 

For my eyes, the marvel of Hubbell and Donahue's skating is how they use acrobatic movements to serve dance itself, rather than treating dance as an excuse for a veiled, pandering pairs program. We too often see dance teams defaulting to light pairs gymnastics for easy showmanship.  To sustain dance is the great challenge.  Hubbell and Donahue were dancing, and that's what I loved the most about them.

Okay, now I'm psyched up.  Now, I'm waiting for the Winter Olympics!

A little ways down, soon, I will be re-posting something I did on the judging in 2014. 

Sunday, January 07, 2018

Highway Robbery at Figure Skating Nationals ... Ice Those Judges! ... I'm Watching Now ...

 Magnificent unity through and through:Tarah Kayne and Danny O'Shea
Okay, let's give all things Ringling a rest. Make this a segue from Out of This World to In This world.  (Ringling, if you bladsters are wondering, was a circus)

I've been out of touch over ice for a while.  Yesterday, I nearly bumped into U.S. Figure Skating Nationals by channel surfing, sat down and watched a few of the pairs teams.  Some pretty nice.
Then came a couple, Kayne and O'Shea, who totally grabbed me.  They struck me as a little heavier than some others, but oh, how their bodies in motion matched, spatial relationships being symmetrically near-perfect, the fluid program a seamless work of art.

Great content, as well.  One or two minor flubs,  but nothing to doom their supremacy over a field I had so far seen,.

I had them easily in first place.

And then came a human interest story, a married pair returning after hardship.  They were Alexa and Chris Knieirim, an obvious crowd favorite:  Full disclosure: I knew nothing about any of these teams. I'm watching the whole thing COLD.

Alexa and Chris produced, I'll give them this, a spectacular fireworks lift off, the woman soaring high in the air.  But this is not supposed to be -- or is it? -- a stunt skating contest.  Reason I say that is because the rest of their routine was a rather messy affair, more like failed sparklers in fizzling disarray. Nothing to compare to Kayne and O'Shea.  In my mind, I gave Knierim and Knierim a second or third place.

Okay, are you ready?  Knierim and Knierim swept the field, easily outscoring Kayne and O'Shea.

ARE YOU KIDDING?  Talk about highway robbery in plain sight.  I can't recall witnessing such flagrantly biased (or fixed) judging at an ice meet, though I'm sure it has happened.  We all know about a fix between judges two judges a few years ago.  Big scandal.  

Not sure about the commentary voices. Seems one of them, once he would hear the scores given, would them come clean on what he really thought of a routine. Finger- in-the-wind scoring?

I am not going to knee-jerk a wish that Dick Button had been there instead.  But I just did.  Or anybody else with a sharper tongue.  How about, say, they get Tanya Harding or her mother to mouth off on the sidelines.

I watched casually then.  This afternoon, I'm going more serious.  The free dance will be on, and that's perhaps the most challenging event to score.  Much of it is, or once was, about subtleties.  I wonder how acrobatic it has become.

See me back later, for more icy impressions ...