The circus has come a long way since carnies and elephants. Now performances like Spiegelworld’s Empire incorporate traditional clowning slapstick and acrobatics with dirty language and mind-blowing acts from around the world. I don’t say this lightly: You have never seen anything like this before.
As a huge fan of anything to do with the circus, I take in as much as I can. I’ve seen Cirque du Soleil and steampunk BMX-style acrobatics, but Speigelworld is the most jaw-dropping show among them. The atmosphere is straight out of the big top circus of your childhood dreams, but inside are burlesque style acrobatics based on classic acts seen around New York, and each act has its own set of vivid characters.
The fun begins with the crass and hilarious host Oscar and his beautiful, filthy-mouthed wife Fanny (Matt Morgan & Heidi Brucker). Like true clowning partners, they have their own over exaggerated in-between acts that were as entertaining as they were stomach turning. I laughed so hard I almost cried at some points, and was thankful I was not in the front row to catch any banana slices spat expertly into my mouth. Canadian Miss Purple serenaded the audience in between acts accompanied by guitarist Moondog (Tess Alves and Aurelien Budynek) and covered some great New York themed songs.
As the performance begins, the beautiful Miss A (Lucia Cabrines) descends from the ceiling in a plastic bubble, and does some death defying splits opening and closing the halves of the sphere. Once she safely makes it back to stage and the rest of the audience stops thinking how out of shape they are, burlesque style Gorilla Girls (Leslie Munos, Alina Reutska and Katerina Rudenko) flip their matching bobs and their smallest member into the air in some incredible displays of strength. This trio looks like models that ran off to the circus, and the ease that they are able to flip a grown woman and support her weight ten feet in the air was impressive to say the least.
There were other modern takes on more common acts, like the Dude Wearing Pigtails (Yasu Yoshikawa) and his german wheel or the Graffiti Guy (Andreis Jacobs Rigolo) who used gravity and strength to move a spinning top around a piece of driftwood. Lime Green Lady and Carrot Man (Vlad Ivashkin and Aiusha Khadzh Khamed) also showed more traditional partner acrobatics, with the tiny and muscular Lime Green Lady being flipped around easily by Carrot Man like she weighed nothing at all. Each act showed the skill and commitment that each character had put into their craft, and the hard work really showed through.
Then there were the nontraditional acts that I watched while holding my breath. I saw a man get juggled barrel-roll style on another man’s feet for ten straight minutes. Part strongmen part acrobats, Ethiopians Henok Belachew Yazachew and Temegen Adole Zada use their feet and core strength to literally juggle Big Mac Boy bodily in the air on Black Flintstone’s feet. Rollerbladers Denis Petaov and Mariia Beseimbetova were equally terrifying as Blue Tarpoleon and Polka Dot Woman. Blue Tarpoleon would whip in circles so controlled that I thought he may whittle his way through the stage, with Polka Dot Woman being spun through the air at top speed, at one point by her neck alone.
I had to hide behind my hands a few times because I was positively sure that Big Mac Boy and Polka Dot Woman would come flying through the air at me, but I had nothing to worry about. These guys are pros. They’re laughing and smiling throughout the performance, yet you can see the incredible amount of focus and conditioning that has gone into these acts. It doesn’t stop with the performers, either. Angus Strathie, who won the Academy Award for Moulin Rouge, designs the costumes and Cha Cha O’Connell, who choreographed famous scenes in Moulin Rouge and the Great Gatsby among others, acts as choreographer. The list of talent in this performance is boggling, and I bounced between laughing and cowering in the intimate environment of the tent. Even the outer seats are still well within range of being hit by a flying human, and the front row seats practically needed a waiver with the ticket price.
Empire is in Ottawa until August 23, 2015 at Lansdowne Park. The Speigeltent is licensed and this is a adult-rated production. Tickets start at $45 and can be purchased online.