"Circus 1903" Review- The Golden Age of Circus is Recreated at The Oriental Theatre

The travelling tent style circus with animals may well be a thing of the past, with modern circuses performing in auditoriums and in concert halls, sometimes accompanied by symphonies. Further, the circus family dynasty tradition is dying out throughout the world, giving way to professional schools such as The Actor’s Gymnasium in Evanston.  However, the essential nature of the circus of yesteryear can still be seen in a fine production called “Circus 1903: The Golden Age of Circus”, currently in production through Broadway in Chicago at The Oriental Theater, 24 W. Randolph, itself a perfect venue for the big-top atmosphere.

Mother Elephant "Queenie"

This is a smorgasbord of entertainment from around the world, with multiple virtuoso performers of the circus arts. Also included in the fun is truly amazing puppetry in the form of a full-sized “mother” elephant and her cavorting calf, designed by “Significant Object” of the U.K. and worked to great effect by a crew of puppeteers including Nyron Levy, Chris Milford, Daniel Fanning, Luke Chadwick-Jones, Henry Maynard and Jessica Spalis.

"Circus 1903" Ringmaster David Williamson; photo by Colin Page

This is a great show for the entire family. David Williamson, emcee/Ringmaster (Willy Whipsnade) hosts 2 highly entertaining acts with clever and enthusiastic introductions interspersed with adorable quasi-magic acts performed by winning tots from the audience. With very special costumes by Angela Aaron, a lavish stage set by Todd Edward Ivins, brilliantly lit by Paul Smith and a clever and engaging diverse score by Evan Jolly, this was a modern reimagining of the old-style bigtop with the focus on individual acts comprised of virtuoso skill sets.

 

As the red velvet curtains rise, the circus has arrived and, amid the hammering of stakes for tents, a teetertotter routine par excellence is staged by “The Flying Fins”, (Artur Ivankovich, Peter Vatermark and AJ Satalamacchia) followed by a balance board (or rola bola) act of skill and drama by Mikhail “The Sensational” Sozonov of Russia. Florian Brummel of Germany, “The Cycling Cyclone”, performed a charming bicycle dance that showed off his graceful balancing skills.

"Lucky Moon"; Elena Gatilova on aerial hoop

There was a pretended segue to an exhibit of human wonders – this politically correct circus sans real elephants would never display real human “oddities”- that served as the introduction to the amazingly talented “Elastic Contortionist”, Ethiopian Senayet Asefa Amare, a gymnast and yoga contortionist of jaw-dropping ability. This was quickly followed by the balletic stunts of gymnast “Lucky Moon”- Elena Gatilova- on a round aerial; she was described as “the foremost aerial performer of her generation”, and watching her slither in and out of the hoop, hanging by an arm or suspended from her toes, one can believe it!

 

In-between acts, “Duo Flash” clowns Yevgeniy Dashikivskyy and Yefrem Bitkine of Ukraine cavort about with amazing timing and miming, and the elephants, each with a distinct individual personality, participate in the fun.

"Los Lopez" on tightrope and bicycle

Highlights of Act 2 included the incredibly daring high-wire act of the Lopez family  troupe, (“Los Lopez”),  Johan and Jonathan Lopez along with Maria Jose Pontigo carrying each other on shoulders and balancing on bicycles as they rode back and forth in duets and a trio on the wire itself. Another wonderful spectacle was "The Great Gaston", Francois Borie of France, who juggled multiple shining silver devices shaped like bowling pins; as he danced around the stage, they glistened all about. It was most endearing, also, when he left the stage to acknowledge and kiss his mother. 

Francois Borie, "The Great Gaston", juggler

Other fine acts included a super foot -juggling act by 6th generation circus performers “Fratelli Rossi”, Alejandro and Ricardo Rossi, and ”Les Incredibles”, a love-duet of supreme acrobatics by Amy Laplante and Andrei Kalesnikau.

 

This was an evening of high-energy and high-level artistry, suitable for everyone who is capable of being thrilled by athletic artistry- it’s highly recommended.

Baby Elephant "Karanga"

Unless otherwise noted, all photos by Mark Turner.

 

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