Bindlestiff Family Circus Winter Cabaret

I had the pleasure to attend the Bindlestiff Family Circus’ twentieth anniversary show at the Brooklyn Lyceum. Unlike a play, this show had no particular centralized theme. It was instead a true cabaret, meaning that it was a collection of individual acts with a few reoccurring characters. The acts ranged from clowning, to juggling, and acrobatics.
The show started with a traditionally dressed clown, portrayed by Keith Nelson. When he pulled out several balloons I was skeptical as to where he was going exactly, seeing as I was not particularly looking forward to a bunch of balloon animals being made. Instead though, Nelson was able to play with putting in different amounts of air and then moving the pockets of air around inside of the balloon, often without using his hands.
In another act the ring leader, portrayed by Stephanie Monseu, explained the show as being exactly something you would see if you went to Cirque du Soliel. This biting joke was not lost on the audience seeing as many of them, including myself, were circus performers. As circus performers we are often asked if we are trying to be like/get in to Cirque du Soliel, and as a result many of us have come to resent the matter being brought up since we do not always share the opinion that it is the end all be all of circus. After Monseu’s introduction Nelson along with juggler Adam Kuchler appeared on stage. Kuchler was dressed up as a toucan with a cigarette in his mouth being used as a special effect. The whole act did quite a good job of poking fun at the big budget special effects that Cirque du Soliel has access to that are now often expected from other troupes.
Although the cigarette was an inexpensive tool for lighting, the lighting director (Mark Simmons) was able to pull it off successfully. By using a green backlight he was able to create a mystical feeling atmosphere. Simmos later employed the same trick with Nelson dressed up in a black and red striped suit in a later act.
Kuchler went on to have a juggling act of his own where he was able to take full advantage of costuming and lighting. He began by showing to the audience that both his socks and his juggling cigar boxes were red, accompanied by a red light. Later though, he pulled up his sock (which ended up only being tubes of fabric covering his ankles) revealing blue ones to accompany his new blue cigar boxes. He then turned around and snapped at the lights which then turned blue as well. After a short it he pulled his socks up again to reveal green socks with white polka dots to much his bag. He proceeded to snap again at the lights which followed suit and turned green.
The show went on to have a German wheel act performed by Chris Delgado. Delgado is the second student of Wolfgang Bientzle I have seen perform and did not disappoint. As a side note, this summer the world wheel gymnastics championships were in Chicago, the city that Wolfgang currently calls home. Before this past year the championships had never left Europe. So when I say that someone is a student of Wolgang, there are very few higher qualifications that a German wheel artist could have.
What was most surprising about Delgado’s act was that he was able to pull off all of his tricks in such a small space. At most he would have room to rotate the wheel twice before he would be forced to change directions. Although there was a two-foot tall wooden ring separating the audience from the stage, it would have proved entirely insufficient in stopping the German wheel seeing as it would have been crushed like an egg the instant the two came into contact. To combat this, Delgado had a spotter sitting at the edge of the ring to catch the wheel. The only time this ended up being necessary though was for the final trick where he launched out of the wheel into a backflip, causing him to no longer be able to control the wheel.
All of the performers were also joined on stage by Sabrina Chaps on the piano. Most circus shows I have seen employ prerecorded music to make it easier for the performers to sync their routines to the rhythm of the music. It was nice to see Bindlestiff take a turn away from this by introducing a live musician who would often interact with the performers. To see all of the acts pulled off seamlessly along with live music tells me just how much rehearsal time had to go into this show. I also quite enjoyed the added dimension of the live musician as well as the possibilities that opened up once she started being an active part of the acts and talking with both the performers and the audience.
I tend not to go for cabaret style circus as much, but Bindlestiff most definitely was able to pull off an impressive show. Looking at the technical skill as well as the ingenuity of the performers left me with a wonderful impression. That combined with an amazing technical crew who had very little technology at their disposal made the show all that more enjoyable. This has definitely helped me see what else is possible with circus and has me thinking of a whole new slew of acts that I shall start working on soon.


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