Review: Cirque Italia

This weekend, we went out to Cicero, IL to see Cirque Italia. It’s a big top water circus. That meant that a series of fountains encircled the stage from below and above. Quite neat.  It was a fun night. However, it started off a little rough due to operational issues. The circus ended up starting 30 minutes late since they were trying to get everyone in. When we got there, there was an enormous line that barely moved.  Plus it was super confusing if you had will call tickets. It wasn’t marked and eventually an employee told us where to go. BUt 30 minutes is a bit much.

Once it started, the circus itself was splendid. The most amazing act was a hand-balancing act by the singer. Yes, the singing gentleman who opens the show ends up doing the most solid hand-balancing act I’ve ever seen. Now, it’s possible that when he went upside down, the sound people switched it to a recording but I’m not sure. And it was amazing. He made hand-balancing look like the easiest thing in the world. He also did some foot-juggling and an incredible jump while upside down!

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One of the most visually stunning acts was the mermaid straps. It started with a woman in a mermaid outfit carried on stage to the straps. She wrapped herself in the straps and began to soar in the air. Then that was when the water circus emerged for the first time. Quite a wonderful spectacle. Then she began a rather impressive straps act, made even more epic by the fact that she didn’t have full use of her legs! As she continued the act, she shed the skin and continued with the rest of the act. Very cool.

Mermaid Straps

There was also a hair act. A lady had her hair hooked up to the winch. She’d then soar in the air with various props. One of them was an umbrella. It made me happy beyond words to see her flying with an umbrella. She also spun hoops, played with a ribbon, and even did the splits in the air.

Hair and Hoops

Hair and Hoops

In the second half, there was a duo lyra act. The show seemed to like twins; Most performers came on in pairs wearing the same outfit and look. Two redhaired women began a lyra act as if they were two sisters fighting. It was graceful and occasionally wacky. At one point, one of them threw a shoe at her sister on the stage. Nice atmosphere.

Overall it was a fun big top circus. I’m not sure I loved it in the same way as UniverSOUL Circus in Washington Park, another traveling bigtop. But I’m glad I got to check it out.

That’s all for now!

Chicago Contemporary Circus Festival 2015: Part 3

So Sunday was the last day of the 2nd Chicago Contemporary Circus Festival. What a festival. Big congratulations to Dana Dugan, Matt Roben, and Shayna Swanson. I saw 10 shows (well, one twice) that were amazing and so incredibly different from one another.

The very last show I saw with the festival was Jaron Hollander and Slater Penney’s The Submarine Show. I laughed so much in the show that my face hurt. It was pure brilliance. I’m sorry that I saw it on the last day because I probably would have tried to see it again if I could have. The show is “acrobatic acapella foley mime duet” as the performers explained or miming with sound effects. They are so masterful with sound effects that I frequently forgot that they were making them. The sounds were so realistic and so well conceived. I’m frankly jealous.

The basic premise of the show is two men crash their submarine at the bottom of the ocean. They end up going on incredible adventures on a desert island where they face all sorts of dangers. With their sound effects and body movements, they do such an amazing job of evoking their world. It was everything I could have wanted and then some. It was a wonderful way to close out the Festival for me.

I can’t wait for next year!

That’s all for now!

Julia Haw: Art and Politics

As many of you know, I’m doing an oral history project about women artists in Chicago. There’s a real threat right now to shut down the Illinois Art Museums for budgetary reasons as of July 1st. Many artists will be directly impacted right now. We will all suffer a tremendous loss if these cultural institutions are shut down.

Here is the link to my other blog where Julia Haw, artist extraordinaire, talks about how the closure and other budget cuts impact her:

https://elisa-shoenberger.squarespace.com/blog/2015/6/22/julia-haw-art-and-politics

Here’s the link to the petition: http://petitions.moveon.org/sign/governor-rauner-dont.fb48

Thanks.

Chicago Contemporary Circus Festival 2015: Part 2

Yesterday, I saw two more circus shows with the Chicago Contemporary Circus Festival. They were magnificent along with all the shows. Today is the last day so get your tickets now!

Pedal Punk by Cirque Mechanics was incredibly imaginative and funny. It has a steampunk feel to it. The basic story takes place in a bicycle shop where people come in to get their bikes fixed or find new apparatuses. The bike owner, one of Chicago’s own, Jan Damm, is a bit of a mad scientist of bikes who comes up with some amazing (and terrifying) creations.

The show had a wonderful variety of circus acts. There was an amazing lyra act that took place on a lyra shaped like a penny-farthing bike, which was awesome. I didn’t know I needed that in my life but I do now. I’m happy this exists. There was contortion, pole, bicycle acrobatics, and so much more. There was even an incredible act with a trampoline, where performers bounced onto the trampoline, doing spins and turns in the air and grabbing onto the stage in seemingly impossible ways, like hanging by a single arm. I now regard trampoline acts with the same feeling that most reserve for flying acrobatics. Except I think that trampoline acts is actually cooler and more creative. And there was some amazing mischief with a square wheeled bike. That tickled me pink.

The set is worthy of note too. It contained all the rigging needed for the show. Actors just had to cycle to raise sections of the set or spin it. It was really fantastic that it was all (seemingly) mechanical. There were corresponding lights in the shape of bicycle wheels too that lit in time with the music. This show was just a marvel. It was so well thought out and pure joy to watch.

I can’t wait to see more shows by Cirque Mechanics.

The second show was the second night of the Bindlestiff Family Circus. Like the night before, the show featured eight acts from around the country. The first act “Aerial Animation” by Abigail Baird and Toni Cannon was truly inspired. It was the wonderful combination of aerial sling and hand to hand acrobatics with animation. We watched Abigail face a bear and get into all sorts of adventure. Her actions on the sling coincided perfectly with the animation. It was magnificent and I want to see more circus combined with animation.

There was an awesome slack-lining act by Ester de Monteflores. I don’t know a lot about slack line; it is different from tight wire. But this was awesome. She did the splits upside down on the rope, which is crazy. She also did various handbalancing positions on the rope. She made it seem like it was easy as breathing (which means it is anything but).

We were also treated to an act by the Institute of Jugglology. It started off as a juggling fight as the two performers grabbed balls from the other while juggling. Then they began juggling hoops and clubs at the same time with such ease. I’ve been told that it’s really hard to juggle different kinds of objects at the same time so this was impressive. But then it was soon revealed that the items had colored sand or dust in them so clouds of dust emanated from the jugglers as they performed. Very cool.. I can see why they won a major juggling award last year.

What a treat!

There’s still time to see more shows today! Check out the website: http://chicagocircusfest.com/

That’s all!

Chicago Contemporary Circus Festival 2015: Part 1

So I’ve been a little tardy with my thoughts on the second annual Chicago Contemporary Circus Festival. It’s a real gift to Chicago. You’ll be missing out if you don’t check it out. Shows run until Sunday night so go to chicagocircusfest.com and buy tickets now.

Here is a brief rundown of the shows I’ve seen over the past few days.

The festival started with the Magmanus Show by duo Magmanus. I actually saw them twice. I saw them once on Wednesday night and then again in a free show at Millennium Park on Thursday. The show was a wonderful combination of acrobatics, hand balancing, seesaw mischief, juggling, and dance. The duo are hilarious and sweet. It was neat to see the show in two places. it was really impressive to see them flying through the air on the seesaw with columns behind them in Wrigley Square. They performed three times, twice in Millennium Park.

Magmanus Show

On Thursday night I saw Peter Davison’s Tossed and Found at the Chopin Theater. What a magical show. The show included juggling, object manipulation, dance, and simply a lot of beauty. So many times the show surprised me and took my breath away. It’s a real treat. It harkens back to the age of silent movies. There’s one bit with hats that made me clap in sheer delight.

Following the show, we checked out Australian group Casus and their show Knee Deep at the Athenaeum. The show has incredible acrobatics, lyra, sling, hula hooping with eggs. And so much more. I had chills so many times during this show. What moved me was that these four performers were incredible strong and agile but they managed to convey such vulnerability in the show. What a beautiful exploration of the human condition!

Friday night began with Kate & Pasi’s Suhde at the Chopin. The title Suhde means relationship in Finnish. The show combines foot juggling and hand to hand acrobatics as a couple fight, love, and figure out how to relate to each other. It’s hilarious but with a lot of heart. Kate and Pasi fight over an armchair while she balances on his head. And it was incredible to watch foot juggling and hand juggling while she laid on his back or balanced on his head. Wow!

Then we saw Jamieson Lindenburg’s The Girlie Show at the Chopin. This show was tremendous. It combines burlesque, circus, and live music. I want more shows like this in the world. It was a raunchy joyful celebration of women and the amazing things they can do. The basic premise is that the show is a cabaret of freaks with a bearded lady, tattooed lady, and so much more. There was cyr wheel, tight wire, trapeze, anchor, pole, and wonderful burlesque. And most of the show was done in high heels! Hot damn! Here’s the interview I did with Jamieson Lindenburg about the show for the festival: http://chicagocircusfest.com/2015/05/11/interview-with-the-girlie-show/

Then we topped off the night with the Bindlestiff Family Circus’ Third Coast Cabaret. This show showcased individual acts from all over the US and the world. We were smitten with an object manipulation act by Robert James Webber (i think?). He twirled a broom around his body like it was the most natural thing in the world. So amazing! There was also a beautiful and fun duo trapeze act by Lauren Feldman & Megan Gendell. They managed to convey such joy as they undertook amazing and daring feats. I can’t wait to see what else they have in store when I go back to NY and hopefully see them.

So there’s still time to see these amazing shows. Seriously, go to one. No, go to them all.

I’ll see you there!

That’s all for now!

NYC In June: Part 3

The next day, I spent the lunch hour exploring midtown. I decided that I wanted to try food from a food truck so I walked to the Avenue of the Americas to all the kebab trucks and other food trucks. I ended up finding one selling Nepalese food so naturally that was lunch. I had some dumplings, which were okay, and a curry rice. It was tasty. Not the best food from a truck, but definitely a nice change from pizza.

I made a stop at my favorite cookie shop Momofuku to pick up my normal truffle balls and try their Cookie Bar Pie. While I wasn’t a huge a fan of their Crack Pie, but this Cookie Bar Pie was amazing. It was filled with chocolate, peanut butter and caramel with a crust. So good and dangerous. I ended up eating the entire thing within moments.

After my presentation that day, my friend Jan and I went to Gari on 46th for sushi. Since I had been traveling so much and eating out a lot, I wanted to try something a little lighter. Plus I can eat sushi whenever. This was a really fine sushi restaurant. The tuna practically melted in my mouth. I went with the simple Chef’s choice which was eight pieces of tender fish. I was in heavy. Paired with plum wine, this was the ideal meal to have after a good presentation with a great friend. For dessert, I had a fish shaped pastry with red bean paste in the middle. It was wondrous (though I ate the bean paste). Later, I found out that this restaurant was one of the best sushi places in NYC. I was already planning on returning!

Then we went to see Fun Home, a new musical nearby. Yes, I saw Fun House less than week from when it won a bunch of Tonys. And it totally deserved it. I’d seen all four nominees: An American In Paris, Something Rotten, The Visit, and Fun Home. It was a magnificent, well thought out play about a young woman coming to terms with her father’s suicide after she came out.

It’s based on a graphic novel by the same name by Alison Bechdel. Yes, that Bechdel of the Bechdel test. I hadn’t read this work of hers; instead I read Are You My Mother? which I didn’t love. She spent a lot of time talking about psychoanalysis,which I am not a fan of. But now I want to read this text.

The play beautifully captures this sense of excitement and terror as Alison Bechdel reflects on herself, her realization about her desires and life. There are three actresses playing Alison, one as a young child, another as a college student, and one as an adult. They were exquisite. And you saw how society confined Alison and her father into prescribed roles. The play gave me chills as they tried to negotiate their roles. But it’s not just about serious issues; there’s levity and hilarity. I think my favorite song was “I want to major in Joan.” And the theme song made by Alison and her brothers about their family is brilliant.

I am extraordinarily pleased to see that Fun Home got great recognition. It describes itself as a new kind of musical and yes, it really is. I can’t wait to see what happens next.

That’s all for now!

NYC in June: Part 2

That evening in NYC, I attended the show Sleep No More by Punchdrunk. I had been told about the British theater company that puts together site-specific immersive theater experiences earlier this year. When a friend told me that the show was on in NYC, I made sure that I had to check it out. It was well worth it.

The best way I can think of describing Sleep No More is to imagine a haunted house where there is a play going on. The play was based on Macbeth set in 1939 but they also developed minor characters’ stories too.

The play takes place at the McKittrick Hotel, which I’m not entirely sure it’s a real hotel or just a warehouse. Everyone is given masks to wear during the show so that it creates a sense of anonymity. It also separates the audience from the performers. The whole idea is that the audience can wander and explore 4-5 floors in this building. There are dozens of rooms, a woman’s bedroom, a child’s bedroom, a hospital, a graveyard, a ballroom, and many more. The audience can explore the rooms, open drawers, and read letters. In the old timey hospital, I picked up a clipboard that mentioned how Lady Macbeth was still having issues with hallucinations. Such detail. At one point, I stumbled across a candy shop where we starting eating from the jars!

The idea is for a personal experience. They actually told us that it is lame to hold hands with the person you came with. They expect you to explore on your own. You can also follow the actors as they proceed through the hotel. You can follow one actor from room to room or branch off if you see someone else. I sort of let the actions in front of me guide me from scene to scene. It was a practice in patience; sometimes you’d stumble across an actor methodically sewing something into a teddy bear and then bam! He’s run across the room, down the hallway, and up the stairwell to a creepy taxidermy lab with animal skulls on the wall. Then he’d run elsewhere to a tailor shop and then engage in a dance/fight with another character.

Much of the interaction between actors was dance. The most effective scene was the passionate, angry argument between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth about whether he should kill the king. They pushed each other against walls, threw themselves around the room at each other. It was incredible.

There was little dialog, which s would be a little confusing since I did have difficulty distinguishing between characters. But I feel that it didn’t matter. This was beyond Macbeth. The stories were so real; it was like real life. You’d just stumble upon a couple fighting, or a man trying to console a weeping woman. But I was disappointed I didn’t find where Duncan had been murdered. I also couldn’t figure out who were the witches.

The scenery were also expertly done. There was a graveyard or outdoor space that was so creepy, I kinda ran through it. That’s pretty impressive for an indoor space that I know is not real. Lighting was also essential to the mood. Lights would change subtly, changing the whole tone of the room. And there were some secret doors you can take. I got to use a wardrobe secret door. So neat!

I feel that I need to do it again, however. I feel that I missed so much, even though I saw so much. I want to follow other characters. And there was one room I didn’t get into that was open while I was following someone else but later closed. I’d open more drawers to find more letters and other clues. I passed a room with a coffin in it. Only did I realize later that I could have tried to open it!

This is truly a performance like no other. I am truly lucky to have been able to go to it. I can’t wait to have the opportunity again.

Mask

That’s all for now!