Time to pay attention to the circus scene
Photo credit: Joan Marcus
The cast of "Pippin" at Music Box Theatre in Manhattan. (March 2013)
By LINDA WINER
August 30, 2013
If you say circus, I think big-top Ringling (and sad elephants). If you say circus again, I think Cirque du Soleil, global aerial spectacle (and glitz Vegas). If you repeat the word once more, my thoughts go to Diane Paulus' Tony-winning revival of "Pippin," where astounding circus performers do enough impossible feats on Broadway that, for long stretches, I can ignore the sappiness of the 1972 musical.
And that, apart from the flying-
circus title of Monty Python's delirious TV series, pretty much covers the mental and emotional effort I have devoted to the popular and historic entertainment through my life.
I'm exaggerating, of course -- but probably not enough to make up for all the cliché-challenging ideas I encountered late last month at a daylong seminar (and consciousness-raising session) called "Speaking Circus."
The subject was contemporary circus, also referred to that illuminating day as new circus and physical theater. The lectures, plus two evening programs at Marcus Garvey Park in Harlem, were co-produced by a 6-month-old American advocacy group called Circus Now, plus the wonderful circus-friendly, family-oriented New Victory Theater on West 42nd Street and the City Parks Foundation SummerStage.
What was I doing there? Basically, I thought experts were going to explain the proliferation of circus -- or at least circuslike acrobatics -- in Broadway musicals. "Pippin" is the most conspicuous example, but certainly "Spider-Man" has plenty of aerial gymnastics, such as they are, and so, as I understand it, will the upcoming mega-musical, "King Kong." Even "Chaplin" had a tightwire walk and "Bring It On," last season's bright little show about cheerleaders, required daunting piles of human pyramids.
But I was the only one who even mentioned "Pippin," even though its circus was -- what's the word? -- choreographed? by Gypsy Snider, a founder of the Montreal company Les 7 Doigts de la Main (The 7 Fingers of the Hand) and creator of "Traces," an Off-Broadway acrobatic hit that I never saw because, well, I didn't know better.
Snider is the daughter of the founders of the Pickle Family Circus, the formative San Francisco troupe I do recognize because it was once the home of Bill Irwin. And Bill Irwin is the wizard who made New Yorkers pay attention to a clown style he was calling new vaudeville.