Circus With The Mostest
Baby aardvark ballerinas, giant insect trainers and tiny men who fly through the air.
Thursday, August 8, 2002
Photo: Duchesses Duke It Out-the Baroque wrestling match is one zany Contraption act.
When Circus Contraption''s battered bus rolled into Big Sur last year, they unloosed an unholy blend of surreal circus acts on Monterey. The troupe, which possesses a post-modern-Gothic, Edward Gorey/Hieronymous Bosch-esque aesthetic, delivers performances that are part circus, part vaudeville and part cabaret. Giant insects, anthropomorphosed creatures, acrobats, aerialists and a klezmer/beer bottle/junkyard scrap band are all part of the entertainment.
This weekend, the 4 1/2-year-old group returns to the Henry Miller Memorial Library with a new show and a new offering for young people interested in learning more about circus acts.
Although the group had a growing reputation in the Pacific Northwest, last year was the first time they had traveled outside that region. The tour was so successful that the troupe was able to expand this year''s tour from seven to 12 weeks, with many return engagements including this weekend''s expanded appearance in Big Sur. Based on last year''s success, the group has also extended the range of its tour. Last summer, the Seattle-based group toured as far south as San Diego, but remained exclusively on the West Coast; this year they''re venturing inland to Denver, Minneapolis, Madison and as far east as Chicago.
This year''s show, "Gallimaufry, An Evening of Jiggery Pokery," (or, loosely translated, "Hodgepodge, An Evening of Shenanigans") adds some new acts, characters and sequences to the group''s stable. In addition to the Baby Aardvark Ballerinas (with their long snouts and tutus), the Pelican Girl, giant insect trainer and tattooed aerialist Darty Kangoo, "Gallimaufry" includes a new opening sequence, a spoof of WWF-style wrestling matches complete with baroque wrestlers and, according to Evelyn Bittner, the group''s publicist, "a juggling number with a tiny man who flies through the air."
Bittner describes "Gallimaufry" as "a variety show with dark and creepy aspects. It''s a show that''s full of surprises and colorful characters, there''s comedy and there''s tragedy."
Live music is essential to any real circus, and it''s even more important to Circus Contraption, which evolved from ringmaster Armitage Shanks'' old performance-art band, Phineas Gage. Last year, the group released a CD of their music-a sort of twisted combination of circus-music-meets-klezmer-band-in-a-Tom-Waits-hangover-on-the-corner-of-Junkyard-and-Mummery-streets. Audiences who liked last year''s show should be happy to know that several new songs have been added to the group''s repertoire.
Also new to Circus Contraption''s appearance in Big Sur this year is the mini workshop that the group is offering for young people, ages 8 to 18. Earlier this year, members of the troupe taught a two-week workshop at a summer camp on Santa Catalina Island in Southern California.
"One of the big goals [at Santa Catalina], was to make a show that people could see at the end of the week," says Bittner. "It was a huge show with about 120 people. We got the kids to be successful at three or four skills each."
Although the exact program for the workshop had not been set as of this writing, the offerings will include some combination of instruction in aerial training, open juggling, dancing on both taut and slack lines, acrobatics, sound tricks and clownery. On Sunday afternoon, members of Circus Contraption and the students will perform a special show highlighting the skills that were taught.
While the workshop in Big Sur is an abbreviated version of the earlier session, Bittner says that attendees can still learn a trick or two, which may encourage them to learn more circus acts in the future and will give them a sense of accomplishment.
"They can learn a couple of tricks and it''s fun," says Bittner. "We can get them to be successful, and when they can do that in front of an audience and they''re successful, that really encourages them a lot."
Circus Contraption''s youth workshops are held today and Friday. The workshop''s family-oriented show takes place Sunday at 1pm, and the Contraption artists will perform "Gallimaufry," for mature audiences, Saturday at 6pm. All events are held at the Henry Miller Memorial Library, Highway One, Big Sur. 667-2574.