Photo courtesy of Brad Cottrell Photography
CirqueLouis presents Midsummer Night’s Circus
Review by Kathi E.B. Ellis
Entire contents copyright © 2016 Kathi E. B. Ellis. All rights reserved.
The year-old Cirque Louis presented an ambitious program at the Iroquois Amphitheater on Saturday evening. Introduced as a part of this year’s “Will in the Ville” celebrations, A Midsummer’ Night’s Circus was positioned as loosely based on William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
The cast of more than forty was drawn from Cirque Louis personnel as well as from Turner’s Circus, and the organization also partnered with Aby Laby Land, a local music group, who created an original soundscape for the evening. The announcement of both partners was met with enthusiastic cheers and whistles from the large crowd at the amphitheater, almost three-quarters full.
The Cirque Louis performers were at their most assured in the air, and some of the aerial work was truly spectacular. In Act One the Palace Children on the Carousel (Josie Chitwood, Emily Cordero, Lucy Heitz, Maerose Monin) were elegant and fearless, clearly demonstrating that it is training, not age, which is the key to aerial work. Act Two’s web dance performed, I infer, by Peaseblossom (Elka Miller,) Cobweb (Ella Price,) Moth (Lily Price,) and Mustardseed (Maddie Shakleton,) ably supported by Adam Traylor, Todd Smith, Andy Pappano, and Adam Springer, was breathtaking in its agility and speed.
The Act Three silks, interpolated before Puck’s epilogue, were the most spectacular number of the evening. Four courtiers shimmied up the lusciously yellow-colored silks for an extended virtuosic display that brought repeated and deserved bouts of applause. Unfortunately this number was the one seen by fewest people, as there were waves of exodus at both intermissions. Even the enticement of act three being “only twenty minutes” was not enough to keep families with young children from streaming out at the second intermission. The program lists just three ladies-in-waiting to Hippolyta (Emma Proietta, Leighann Pusateri, Laura Shahan) and yet there were four performers in the air.
Titania (Emily Price) and Oberon (Jordan Clark) were two of the most compelling characters of the evening; when they were on stage, their other-worldly auras ensured that they were the ones on whom we focused; Lee Mai’s Puck was effectively sprite-ish. These three were also the most assured with the more circus-like activities on the ground. The world of the fairies was the most successfully realized visualized with eye-popping black and white costuming, design credited to Artistic Director Christine Moondancer. Part of Titania’s court were the charming Attendants on Globe (Lucia Pappano, Annabelle Springer, Hannah Wilkins,) three of the youngest performers whose nonchalance walking on large red globes made this balancing act look ridiculously easy.
The narrative of the evening followed the original sufficiently for those who know the play to recognize the major plot elements. It was a smart choice to switch out the mechanicals for a group of traveling gypsy performers. The addition of a prologue to explain Hippolyta’s capture was an indifferent beginning to an evening that was going to stretch close to three hours.
The ambition of this endeavor is to be applauded: an evening of aerial spectacle, a huge cast ranging from elementary age to adult, original live music, an adaptation of a classic from another genre; and a long time commitment to rehearsals – months according to Moondancer in her curtain speech. And yet, with this many balls in the air, not everything came together to create a successful multi-genre production.
Aby Laby Land was clearly a great favorite with the audience, and it is always exciting to have live and – in this case – original music as part of a theatrical evening. However, the music did nothing to support the narrative structure of the evening, to shape the comedy, mistaken identities, tension, or celebration; each song was enjoyable, and these compositions are a great new album for the band. Performatively the band was just that: a band in performance, rather than a musical ensemble integrated into the storytelling. There were pauses as instruments were exchanged, tempos for the next number set, etc., what one would experience at a concert but which interfered with the overall storytelling arc.
Act Two, in particular, was overstuffed with spectacle. Even when the narrative described in the program notes had been achieved in any given scene, there was one more (or several) act that was interpolated which – regardless of quality, and many were good – contributed to the sense that the evening was really a sequence of aerial and floor acts strung together. And that would be fine because there is so much talent in this ensemble! But the evening was positioned as telling a story, and that piece of the pie was frequently sacrificed.
Cirque Louis is one of the newer arts organizations in our community. They have talent, ambition, and impressive connections that almost filled one of the larger performance venues in the county. They also have a commitment to training all ages and to outreach to many sectors of our community. Here’s to their continued growth and success.
CirqueLouis presents Midsummer Night’s Circus
July 9, 2016
1080 Amphitheater Road
Louisville, KY 40214
Kathi E.B. Ellis is an associate member of the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society and a member of Lincoln Center and DirectorsLabChicago. She has attended the La MaMa Directing Symposium in Umbria, Italy and is featured in Southern Artisty, an online registry of outstanding southern artists. Her directing work has been recognized with nominations for South Florida theatre’s Carbonell Award. Locally, Kathi is a member of Looking for Lilith Theatre Company, a founding principal of StageLab theatre training studio, and part of ShoeString Productions, an informal producing collective. She has written book reviews and articles for Southern Theatre, the quarterly publication of the Southeastern Theatre Conference, and was a contributing writer for JCPS’ textbook for the 11th grade Arts and Humanities survey course and for YouthArts Tapestry, a Kentucky Arts Council publication.