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Happy Birthday!

Choreographed by Jordan Clark

Photo and Review by Keith Waits

Entire contents copyright © 2018 Keith Waits. All rights reserved.

Between two severe thunderstorms on opening night, Cirque Louis opened their newest production, which celebrates the 80th birthday of the Iroquois Amphitheater.

The concept of “birthday” loosely ties the various vignettes together, beginning with Mime Lisette Markham’s simple presentation of a gift to the strains of “Happy Birthday Waltz”. The thread is carried on through a continuing series of vignettes interspersed among the acrobatics and aerial performances, most of which focus on a young girl’s birthday.

The concept seems slight, merely an excuse to stage circus acts that are inherently celebratory in tone. What matters is the quality and daring of the execution, and Cirque Louis delivers on both counts. There are plaintive sequences of great charm, such as Annabelle Springer’s Ball Walking, or the Tire and Swing routine from Elina Sulkowski, Katie Falls, Alyssa Schlimm, Ashley Kennedy, Charlotte Kennedy, Jasmine Ayers, Lily Price, and Ella Price.

And Ring Juggling with Lee Mai, Michael Crinot, Andrew Marchal and Henry Marchal was a fresh variation on tossing objects in which body movement was emphasized.

Yet there were times that the efforts at charm felt unnecessary and almost distracting. A moment of five bodies clad in bright hues balancing and contorting was an impressive display of strength, coordination, and discipline, and was beautiful to behold. It hardly needed the balloon animals being rendered and played within their space. (Jordan Clark, Olivia Storment, Ella Price, Alyssa Schlimm, & Ashley Kennedy).

Likewise, the inclusion of an acerbic MC played by the capable Wil Heuser felt to me like souring the milk with a drop of orange juice: both are delicious but not a good combination. Perhaps it was intended to be a contrasting accent to the sweetness, but I felt it just didn’t work.

What does work, what always works with this company, is when they take to the air. In a particularly nice synthesis of the birthday concept with functionality, a voluminous length of gold silk emerged from a gift-wrapped box and immediately rigged to be a part of a marvelous routine performed by Olivia Storment, Zach Edwards, Laura Shahan, Emily Price, and Elizabeth Kruse.

There is also the Moon (Carter Webb & Lily Price), and a Pole scene (Webb, Zachary Haley, & Aunshanay Wilson) with a stationary AND hanging pole that was highly dynamic, with a surprising amount of exchange among the performers.

Among the cast there can be found a good many family relationships, a fact explicitly called out in a Mother & Daughter trapeze routine with Ashley & Caroline Kennedy emphasizing the importance of trust in circus performing. It was not overly precocious and led into a lengthier trapeze scene including Asher Taylor-Dawson, Alexis Thomas, Zachary Haley, Lily Price, & Emily Price, that served as a pseudo-finale before a Group Acro denouement.

Except, in cheerful defiance of theatrical convention, Cirque Louis took to the air once more for a delirious Big Top Birthday Spanish Webs, in which Abbie Springer, Alyssa Schlimm, Laura Shahan, & Leighann Pusateri execute an aerial ballet of supreme grace; poetry in motion 40 feet above the stage. As with the silks earlier in the evening, the action provoked gasps of appreciation, and the last, very rapid twirl of bodies was almost frightening.

This final sequence played out as heavy rain moved in, the stage and audience shielded but the sounds of the storm an extra-added theatrical effect nonetheless.

But Cirque Louis needs no Deus ex machina to achieve their desired effect, which is to entertain with the circus arts that focus on human achievement and, therefore, humanity. The rise of local circus and aerial groups brings the epic and exotic tropes of the old-fashioned circus down to earth, so to speak. Although there is not a fully developed narrative at work here, the themes express kindness, compassion, and generosity in simple, even naïve terms that make “Happy Birthday!” the best kind of family entertainment.

Happy Birthday!

July 20 & 21 , 2018

Iroquois Amphitheater
1080 Amphitheater Road
Louisville, KY 40214


Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at Louisville Visual Art during the days, including being the host of LVA’s Artebella On The Radio on WXOX 97.1 FM / ARTxFM.com, but spends most of his evenings indulging his taste for theatre, music and visual arts. His work has appeared in Pure Uncut Candy, TheatreLouisville, and Louisville Mojo. He is now Managing Editor for Arts-Louisville.com.