Moscow Circus: God Help ‘Em

circus.gifPicture this: an empty stage designed for a full orchestra, three long banners vaguely depicting strips of St. Peter’s Square at the very back, music piped in from some Eastern European disco still playing remixes of tracks from the early 90’s, costumes that look like they were designed by a crazed lunatic let loose in a spandex factory with a pair of scissors and a bad case of colorblindness, a set of ten performers only three of whom appear on the cavernous stage at one time, no choreographer, no set designer, and no artistic director. What’s that spell?? FUN FOR THE WHOLE FAMILY!!! NEAR-DEATH EXPERIENCES!!! A GREAT WAY TO SPEND $36 AND A SUNDAY AFTERNOON!!! Welcome to the Moscow Circus.*

I had the misfortune to attend their final performance at Berkeley’s Zellerbach Hall last week, and, let me tell you, by the end I was just grateful no one had died or been raped. It’s too late to hope that they weren’t all dropped on their heads because, judging by the quality of the show, most of them already have been. All the acts were either downright disturbing or just a series of stop-and-start moves and poses with very little to connect them.

In the first category was the family of two jugglers/acrobats and their “son.” I use quotation marks because after bringing him out in a full clown suit and tossing him around like a doll – including throwing him down on a table, grabbing his ankles and bouncing his legs beyond the edges of the table repeatedly, spinning him around and doing it again – I doubt he’s going to be functionally male for much longer. For the record, forced contortion is about as entertaining as watching videos of skateboarders riding railings and landing on their crotches. It’s even more unsettling when the person doing the molesting is the kid’s mother and she’s wearing what appears to be a bright yellow G-string panel bikini over a skin-tight, wildly striped bodysuit.

The boy appeared later in a hand-balancing act with his dad. I don’t think he set a trick (meaning hit the position and held firm) through the whole routine, a clear indication that he was not performance ready. It wasn’t a surprise then that on his second trick, he fell from about shoulder height to the floor in a heap. His dad gave him an arch look, they went on, and three or four tricks later, the kid lost his balance again and came down like a sack of potatoes. I’m just hoping that my $36 is going into a fund for his future therapy or catastrophic accident insurance.

The rest of the acts – a couple of silks routines, two redundant hand-balancing bits, some low-level clowning – were old-school circus, and not the good kind with elephants that can count, a guy with six heads, and lots of raucous tearing around. This kind is a bunch of unrelated acts performed back to back like a talent show. The performances follow the same formula: they consist of a series of tricks and almost no choreography. You can almost hear the aerialists whispering, “Ta DA!”

The thing is, no one likes a show-off. It just makes you want to take the guy out back and kick his ass for being such an arrogant prick. If the event – like the ski jump or the 100-meter dash – is purely technical, a demonstration of strength or fitness, fine. We all know what we’re getting when we buy our tickets.

In contrast, when I go to a performance, I expect, well, a performance. Not a demonstration. A performance. And a performance does not consist of you and your boyfriend climbing up to the ceiling on bands of silk, spending a minute or two setting up some complicated contraption for hanging from your neck and then, well, hanging from your neck. I’m excited for you that you can hang from your neck – go you! – but that’s not a performance, that’s a trick. Plus, the obvious during-act set-up thing is a no-no in my book. It’s like someone explaining the mechanics of a magic trick and then yelling, “Surprise!” I’m just not that surprised. Go figure.

It’s clear why we’re all so excited about Cirque du Soleil if this is what was on offer before they came along.

*Don’t be fooled by their web site: there were no trapeze acts, no bars, no rings and no dogs on this tour. Probably just as well for the dogs, given how it’s working out for the kids.


Categories: News, Nuisance, Miscellany, Watch This


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One Comment on “Moscow Circus: God Help ‘Em”

  1. molly
    May 10, 2008 at 3:57 pm #

    “Together their carriers blossomed; Olga managed to continue working right through her pregnancy.”


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