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Saturday, July 20, 2024

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PerformanceStage ReviewCircus in the Sun: Bella's outdoors show is a...

Circus in the Sun: Bella’s outdoors show is a ‘WOW!’

At local parks, the troupe's summer stint brings welcome laughs, along with rola bola, lyra, and the Big Juggle.

After all the ups and downs my life has had lately, I needed the relief of something familiar. I now live in an unheated room in the Sunset, so even sunny days for the rest of SF mean the marine layer will linger at my place up in the hills. As such, I greatly appreciate the opportunity to head down to Yerba Buena Gardens , sit in the sun, and watch clowns be silly for a crowd of eager kids. (And seeing Boots Riley sit in the audience sure didn’t hurt.)

That was certainly the case for the opening day performance of Circus Bella’s 2024 summer show WOW! (through July 20 at various Bay Area parks). It was a very sunny day, there were lots of eager kids, and Abigail Munn’s seasoned troupe of Bay Area big-toppers were on hand for an hour of outdoor shenanigans.

Oddly enough, the show seemed shorter than the company’s usual summer performances, despite being roughly the same length. Sure, the holiday shows under the tent tend to be two-act, two-hour productions, but the earlier summer shows often felt filled to the brim regardless of the official run time.

As with earlier shows, this one was preceded by the stilt-walking stunts of Oakland’s own Prescott Circus Theatre. It wasn’t lost on me that African-originated style—featuring an all-Black youth troupe—was being performed just two days after Juneteenth. I doubt anyone else was as aware of that connection, but the audience got into the routine all the same. The kids happily clapped along to the drum beat that kept time with the high-rise youngsters.

The proper Circus Bella portion began with the traditional splashy opening MC’d by ringleader, founder, and artistic director Munn. There was much stacking on shoulders, juggling of objects, and numerous appearances by today’s full roster, particularly, the company’s in-house clown trio of Jamie Coventry, Calvin Kai Ku, and Natasha Kaluza. The intro never quite ends so much as it simply transitions into the lyra (aerial hoop) performance of Dwoira Galilea.

We move on to the juggling routine of Jefferson Freire, who not only tosses several pins as his feet are on the ground, but concludes by doing so atop a six-foot high unicycle. He’s followed by the rola bola stylings of Ori Quesada, who really got the young audience’s attention by shifting the rola so quickly that objects (bowls, cups, a spoon) flew up to his head, where they stayed.

Elise Hing’s contortion and Toni Cannon’s strong-man act both impressed by showing just how easily the human body can be pushed to its limits for the sake of our entertainment. Clown Natasha Kaluza’s hula hoop routine dazzles before we see further body manipulation via Joel Hertzfeld’s balancing act.

With clown routines in-between, we end with “The BIG Juggle” involving the entire cast of the day.

Circus Bell. Photo by Barry Schwarz

Interestingly, the part that really caught my attention was when Munn mentioned that all the costumes for the show had been created by Autumn Adamme of SF’s own Dark Garden Corsetry. I became familiar with the boutique’s work through costumes they’ve made the much more “adult” circus of Kat Robichaud’s Misfit Cabaret. I wonder how many of the parents in attendance did a search to find out more about Adamme’s sensual stitchery? 

Regardless, WOW! is a decent if familiar addition to Circus Bella’s annual summer tour. When asked by our hostess how many in attendance had never seen a CB show before, the majority of audience members raised their hands. No matter what their age, it’s safe to assume from their reactions that they’ll try to find CB again when they’re in the area.

For those of us who see it every year (particularly those of us who’ve had a rough half-year thus far), WOW! was a sunny comfort at the start of the summer – not quite enough to make one forget life’s recent curveballs, but enough to make one appreciate the simple pleasure of watching clowns in the park.

CIRCUS BELLA PRESENTS WOW! runs through July 20 at various Bay Area parks. Further info here.

48 Hills welcomes comments in the form of letters to the editor, which you can submit here. We also invite you to join the conversation on our FacebookTwitter, and Instagram

Charles Lewis III
Charles Lewis III
Charles Lewis III is a San Francisco-born journalist, theatre artist, and arts critic. You can find dodgy evidence of this at thethinkingmansidiot.wordpress.com

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