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Wednesday, September 7, 2011

UniverSoul Circus pitches big top at Chene Park

Ursula Watson/ The Detroit News

September 07. 2011

Expect a huge helping of the unexpected when the ever lively UniverSoul Circus pitches its big top at Detroit's Chene Park starting Thursday. Audiences will be treated to a diverse troupe of 14 acts, including new talent like Ethiopian contortionist Rahel; Chain Reaction, the two-wheeling daredevils from China; and acrobatic troupe Russian Swing. And, of course, the circus will feature talented critters like crafty canines and toothy tigers.
UniverSoul is a jubilant combination of circus arts, theater and music ranging from pop and classic R&B to Latin, hip-hop and more.
It's not just a circus; it's a highly interactive party that encourages audience members to groove along with ebullient ringmaster Tony Tone, form a "Soul Train" dance line or lend their voices to a sing-along.
"The joy that people are getting, the laughter in the audiences, it seems like it is greater than ever," says UniverSoul spokesman Hank Ernest. "You feel the energy from the audience because of the combination of acts and the ringmaster. People are going home and telling their friends and that's why our shows are often sold out.
"This show is for everybody, whether you're from in town or from the suburbs, young or old."
Now in its 18th year, UniverSoul was founded in Atlanta by concert and theater promoter Cedric Walker. Ernest says Walker developed his love of the circus as a child.
"After the show ended, he said he wanted to run away with the circus," Ernest says of Walker. "He had this tucked away in the back of his head even while he became an impresario in the entertainment industry."
During the off-season, Walker travels the globe, says Ernest, in search of new talent.
Dance group the Transformers, which sets the high-energy tone of the show, is the opening act this year, says dancer and Detroit native Gary Beauford. Beauford, who served for four years in the Air Force, has been with the dance group for eight months.
"Our act is basically a combination of hip-hop that you see today on shows like 'So You Think You Can Dance' and 'America's Best Dance Crew,' " he says. "There's choreography, freestyle, breaking, popping, cutting and a gymnastic element."
The Henry Ford High School grad will make his home in Washington, D.C., after the circus shuts down for the season; in the meantime, he says he can't wait to get back to Detroit.
"To be able to see my friends from middle and high school, my mom and just chill with my family for a while," he says. "I am going to love it, just enjoy it."
UniverSoul Circus7:30 p.m. Thursday-Sept. 18 Chene Park 2600 E. Atwater, Detroit Tickets $12-$28; free for children younger than 1 Call (800) 745-3000


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