Performer Mason West is in the air with the Circus Oz ensemble cast. Photo credit: Ron Blackburn
Submitted by Cyd King
review by Michelle Parks, special to The City Wire
FAYETTEVILLE, AK— Do you remember those great laughs when you were a kid? The ones where you got so excited that you'd lose your breath, then hiccup as you giggled?
It turns out, those don't go away when you grow up.
Circus Oz, with its opening-night performance Thursday (March 29) at the Walton Arts Center, inspired such a response from its all-ages audience. Performances run through Tuesday.
With their "Steampowered" show, the cast of characters asked the audience to step into another time, one that blends romance and technology, and in which everything runs on steam. That steam comes in the form of the energy exerted by the amazing human specimens in this show's cast (and the crew working behind the scenes).
And those laughs are generated by breathtaking, gravity-defying feats and hilarious antics mixed with the highly skilled moves.
An Australian group, Circus Oz features an on-stage band that fuels the action. This circus has no animals — save for a few "dummies" and people in costumes. But the display is engaging and spectacular nonetheless, with an intriguing combination of acrobatics, singing and live music. Band members and circus performers dress in "steam punk" fashion, as those in the Victorian era might have imagined the future.
Performers used a see-saw to fly into the air, getting enough height for single and double flips. With a subtle tap of the thigh, each performer signaled to the others when they were ready to be launched into the air. Some caught others mid-air, forming human towers.
They showed strength and impeccable timing by climbing a pole at center stage, then sliding down to just shy of the floor. Two men held their bodies perpendicular to the pole.
Eight people gradually piled onto a bicycle as it circled the stage. And one of them rode the bike — perfectly balanced as he used one foot, a hand, then an umbrella to pedal — until it fell apart, leaving him with a unicycle.
They showed amazing coordination and balance with simple objects — such as wooden blocks. The comedy was often madcap, as with the exchange of juggling clubs between six cast members.
A trapeze act in the second half provided a comedy of errors, ending with someone losing his pants. And, with smooth and precise movements, tumblers dove through stacked hoops.
As cabaret singer and ringmistress, Sarah Ward was simply charming. She sang a beautifully melancholy song as Flip Kammerer showed mesmerizing fluidity and majestic strength on the aerial straps. Ward also dispersed a litany of facts about the human body, interspersed with a trapeze act.
Donning a fashionably regrettable leotard, Kammerer — as Fantasia Fitness — was hilarious in her rollerblading skit in the second half of the show. Her physical comedy and comedic timing were perfect. With each planned mishap, she blurted, "I meant that." With a full flip at the end, she showed the skills she'd possessed all along.
Mason West stunned the audience with the strength and balance he exhibited on the rola bola — with two cylinders sandwiched between three spacers. He also balanced on the wings of a small wooden plane perched atop a pole — first on his feet, then with a handstand.
The less-than-polished feel of this show was a big part of its appeal. The people on stage created such endearing personalities that it was easy to enjoy them, far beyond the impressiveness of their jaw-dropping stunts.
This show is plucky and sassy and worth every bit of its two hours.
And, remember, it's not over until the fat lady sings.