When Imagination Breathes Right Before Your Eyes – CLOSING NIGHT
“Imagination means nothing without doing.”
― Charles Chaplin
Thus begins the story …
I have been a Cirque fan since I first saw Varekai. Enamored, blissfully engaged in unforeseen wonderment, colors and flow one can only dream of – something about the world of cirque coupled with the uncanny brilliance of vaudeville is truly the encompassing factor behind Cirque-A-Palooza. Created and Directed by Stefan Haves, one is genuinely faced with a dilemma. That aching child inside of us all that wants to stand up and applaud in an unapologetic roar, smiling big, laughing so loudly you don’t even know who is around you – and you simply don’t care – that enthralling innocence that we long for – we all long to give in. Or the other side. The adult. The one that remembers that typically, in the theatre, you are encouraged to mind your inner child, calculating the laughs you allow to escape you in a volume that is “acceptable”. Not in Cirque-A-Palooza. You are asked to silence the well behaved, well tamed adult and instead embrace that inner child; awaken your desire to sing along, clap loudly, answer back to those on stage – THAT is what separates Haves’ show from the rest.
Performers running through the crowd, climbing over people in the most interactive curiousness that welcomes all to simply “allow” … there is a real beauty to that. A texture of acceptance; a tangible invitation to give in and see everyone not merely as performer or audience member but as a collective whole of individuals all brought together to laugh, sing, dance, wonder, and strip away any “realistic” boundaries often taught to confine us. What Haves’ has done is brought the audience back to life. In that charming, slapstick brilliance of the Charlie Chaplin’s, Buster Keaton’s, Jerry Lewis’ of the world, Stefan Haves has rather poignantly asked you to open your mind, let go of everything, and enjoy the awe of artists, performers, and those around you.
Performing one final night at the Pasadena Playhouse, there is something bittersweet about the performance tonight. It is difficult to keep this review short simply because this was a two week event and tonight, as you watch, it’s as if you’ve been transported to a world of live cinema and the multitude of visuals drawing your eyes from the stage to the audience to the aisles and even to the ceiling keep every aspect of your iris fully engaged.
The evening opens with Stefan Haves introducing the audience to the show, thanking them ever so graciously for coming, his enthusiasm dancing around the room in an airy joy. On cue a cast member from the side aisle engages. The bit of creating an “angry mob” ensues. Audience members on the right-facing side of the theatre chosen at random before the show and then one solo man in the middle stands up and joins in. Stefan just smiles and says, “Hey man, I love that you just joined in the angry mob. These guys were picked and prepped and you’re just ready to participate!” The crowd applauds. Then Haves reminds the audience of talent such as Abbott & Costello, Wheeler & Woolsey, and of course we are reminded of the pristine talent of Charlie Chaplin. Haves eludes to a very extra special treat for the audience and all he hints is simply to “stick around” after the performance for a very special once in a lifetime moment that we won’t want to miss. There is a special guest here tonight. A VERY special guest.
And so as he thanks the audience again, he is joined on stage by “Ranger Greg”. They discuss the illusion of time, the days of vaudeville, how life is like a road – and Ranger Greg chimes in that is more like a hike. He begs us to follow along. And we do.
“Life is like a hike. you can turn back or move forward.”
He proceeds to tell the audience about learning how to survive certain “encounters” whilst on a hike. He tells us about bears and that in the event of an attack you “freeze and blend” and in the event of other dangers, one “assumes the Ranger position”. And without pause, the audience falls in and does whatever he asks. We are all willing participants in this world created for us to lose ourselves in for a couple of hours. I think about this bit and realize it’s a bit deeper than it appears. In it’s light appeal however the underlying meaning that I pontificate is that life, especially today, is fraught with continual danger or setbacks but the beauty in this metaphor for life is that we are always moving along on the road, always on a journey. Often times even when we encounter something that throws us off our track we still have so many extraordinary moments around us, behind us, and ahead of us, the hiccups are actually what make it all the more fascinating.
While the show was abundant in worthy performance, ATOD Magazine was fortunate to write about a few already so with the exception of a couple worthy repeats, I’m going to touch on the highlights (which were in plenty):
Godfrey Daniels – Balloon Man
The Balloon Man does a melodic dance between him and his red balloon. The careful balance of calculation, sweetness, reaching for the balloon twisting his body, his character childlike and full of this enamored beautiful whimsy – he epitomizes dreams. A balloon. The weight of ones existence. Can you choose your vision? Your dreams, are they equivalent to the balance of a mere object gliding through the air with a soft grace? This is a true metaphor for this misinterpreted beauty and innonence that exists within us all. The race to catch your dreams. To trust in your ideas, believe in your innate sense of possibility, before reality, or in this case, gravity, causes them to hit the ground.
Andrew Goldenhersh – Magic Man
He begins the show by talking about a silly tattoo he got on his forearm. A monarch butterfly. His wildly curly hair shines under the glow of the spotlight and his humor, while funny in delivery is not overtly comical and poignantly matter of fact. As he talks to the crowd telling his tale of this rather juvenile tattoo, he is picking at the butterfly on his forearm. His fingers plucking away at its edges. Eventually he peels it off! And then, then his fingers make you wonder if perhaps your vision is impaired because as he peels off the sticker butterfly affixed to his flesh, his fingers slowly raise and in between them is an actual monarch butterfly! A large beautiful REAL butterfly that flies away up into the rafters of the Playhouse and onto it’s own journey. His second magical display comes by way of the infamous work of Houdini. While impressive, it was the butterfly that enveloped my attention.
Andrey Muraru – One Hand Balancer
I must start this by saying any kind of body balancer I have ever seen has typically been men or women who were smaller in stature and while that doesn’t mean their physical strength is less powerful, it simply showcases that balance and proportion with years of practice can allow for mind blowing ability. However, when I watched as the towering six foot three Andrey Muraru walked onto the stage and began to use only his hand to balance his long limbs and massive height I found myself gasping in awe. How does one man so tall, so far from the ground manage to make his body not only seem as agile as a bendy straw but as delicate as a feather? “Hours and hours and years of practice” he says to me after the show. (Stay tuned, I’m going to be interviewing Andrey…)
Brett Loudermilk– Sword Swallower
Brett Loudermilk, the sword swallower can only be depicted by presenting you with a situational visual: to watch him both fascinates and frightens you. The shiny, cold metal gripped carefully in the palm of his hand slithering in through his mouth, now wishfully moist and open enough to invite the rod of death in. The gasping of the crowd as the sword would glide in and that horrifying moment when it had to be pulled out was one that sent shivers down your spine. When he would gag, it was a genuine reflex which made it all the more haunting to watch. He jokes, “this is what happens when you drop out of school”. One can only pretend to know the years of practice and the daunting moments of error to which blood most certainly is drawn and panic sets in and yet – this young sword swallower does his routine with a precision and style that lends to a freakish admiration.
If you’ve ever seen STOMP, you know that some people really dance to the beat of their own drum and in this case, to the beat of their own washing machines. The group known as the LaundoMat, three men, one woman proceed to the stage pushing their own washing machines. The beat begins. A newspaper being pulled and straightened to make a sort of swish. The tap tap tap on the side of the washing machine to get it to start. A kick. A lid opening and closing and before long you find your toes tapping incessantly, your body moving back and forth, your hands doing all they can not to clap in unison with the beat, and you are fully enthralled in the music made with only these four people’s bodies, washing machines, and a newspaper as their instrument. It is, by every account of the word, astounding. Miles Crawford, Bronkar Lee, Ameenah Kaplan and John Sawicki
Nick Huff – Actor, Performer
Well, in all fairness, to my delight, Nick Huff is one of my friends and this was the first time I have seen him perform on stage! His vivacity, sarcastic wit, towering presence, dance moves that prove this boy has soul, and a smile that delights and spreads like a happy contagion is something to behold. Watching him interact on stage with a cast so fiercely talented and harmoniously imaginative was a wonderful bonus.
David Matz also is someone that has to be mentioned. Using what looks like a massive body sized hula hoop, he climbs inside and moves around the stage by simply shifting his body weight and going with the momentum his agility offers. Amy Gordon’s performance as the girl on roller-skates was such a comedic performance, I loved that as she did her physical comedy, I could envision a talent to the likes of Carol Burnett. Every single performer really did bring something unique to the show. It was a performance I shall not soon forget.
As the show had one final song, the audience was in for a treat! The VERY Special Guest Stefan Haves reminded us of at the beginning of the show was the one and only Susan Newton, Charlie Chaplin’s Granddaughter. Honoring her with an award called the Cirque-A-Palooza Award For Influential Performers In The Variety Arts, it was a beautiful moment. With grace and tears of joy, she happily stood as the audience acknowledged her and the brilliance of her grandfather. Once awarded, Stefan returns to center stage. Suddenly, out comes a black trunk. His infamous black trunk. To our wonder, Stefan gave us one final treat. In honor of Susan Newton and her grandfather Charlie, “Back Man” was brought out of retirement and revealed to the audience. Back bare, eyes drawn on, Stefan showed us a character much loved and highly animated. It was a perfect finish.
I think every single cast member deserves applause and mentions. The entire cast transformed the audience and did, as the show’s theme implies, take you on a journey. I had the pleasure of staying for the after party and watched as every performer danced, smiled, playfully engaged everyone willing to participate, and the notes strumming through Bushwalla’s guitar and skipping about the keys of the keyboard moved through the evening like a transported moment of time. For an hour or so, it was no longer the courtyard of the Pasadena Playhouse. It was a street somewhere in times before with laughter bellowing, music scooting about us, the moisture of the night gently resting on any bare skin. We were no longer in the present. Much like the experience during the entire run of Cirque-A-Palooza, this courtyard became a world that could only exist in ones imagination and it was, in every sense of the word, liberating.
The cast I had the pleasure of meeting: Ekaterina Pirogovskaya, Melissa Kaplan, Moses Norton, Lexi Pearl, Eric Jeffers, Jean-Louis Darville, Roger Fojas, Amy Gordon, David Matz, Eric Newton, Estela Garcia, Nick Huff, Rex T. Impossible, Mat Plendl, Jason Rodgers, Benedikt Negro, Eric Jeffers.
Below are images, a video, and links to ALL 4 write-ups ATOD Magazine™ of Cirque-A-Palooza coverage:
Photographs taken by my very talented Photographer, Mr. Clarence Alford:
Road To Palooza VIDEO
A Taste of Dawn Productions made a short video to give viewers a glimpse into the performance (it’s simple but candid):
ATOD Magazine Reviews of all 4 Cirque-A-Palooza Events: