There are few pleasures as pure as a trip out to the circus with the family. But as times change, the innocent wonder of childhood quickly fades as technology and real life takes over. But there’s a solution to that. Circus 1903 takes audiences on a journey back in time to the golden age of circus troupes, where every performance was an event, every night out sheer delight, and even throws in their very own ‘animals’ into the performance.
Running at Mastercard Theatres till 29th April, Circus 1903 marks Singapore as their next stop on their world tour, after coming in fresh from sold out runs in Sydney, Los Angeles, new York and Las Vegas. The magnificent affair brings back the classic idea of a ringmaster (David Williamson) as he brings audiences through each act, introducing each fabulous performance they are about to bear witness to. Says creative director Neil Dorward: “I wanted to capture the idea of what a circus was like a century ago, where all across small towns in America, the entertainment industry wasn’t really big. So when the circus rolls into town, it’s a huge day for everyone, they’d all get off work, watch the trains arrive, and watch the troupe unpack their things and really immerse themselves as part of the experience.”
He continues: “I envisioned it as musical theatre meets circus. I’ve worked on shows before like Le Noire for Cirque du Soleil, but here, you’ve got Act 1, where the troupe is hammering in stakes and unloading the trains, still rehearsing and training, giving audiences a look behind the scenes, while in Act 2, the tent is raised and you’re surrounded by all this glitz and colour, one act after another.”
At the media preview, we got a glimpse of three acts that would be shown during the performance itself. We started off the day with acrobats Marcella Collares De Queiroz Ribeir and Olavo Rocha Muniz. Hailing from Rio de Janeiro, the dynamic duo performed a Russian Cradle act for us, as Olavo propels Marcella into the air as she flips, bends and turns in midair, performing complicated, gravity defying acts. Each movement swelled with grace and poise, and it was evident the amount of rehearsals and practice that had gone into this.
Says Olavo, who has been training with Marcella for the past three years: “We rehearse three hours a day, five days a week. Besides spending time working on the show itself, we also train by doing crossfit and going to the gym to hone our bodies.”
Says Marcella: “When I was six, I learnt ballet, before moving into gymnastics. I started learning circus acts when I was 19, and to join Circus 1903 is a culmination of all that I’ve learnt and an absolute dream. The people here are so talented and beautiful, and it’s an honour to be a part of their show.”
In the second act, we watched as Ethiopian contortionist Senayt Asefa Amare twisted her body into extreme positions, showing off her incredible flexibility she’s been honing since the tender age of 11 at Circus Tigray. There’s an ease with which she moves that makes these feats looks easy, but we can’t imagine ourselves doing that anytime soon, and marvelled as she moved in time to Evan Jolly’s evocative orchestral music.
Senayt has been with Circus 1903 ever since the beginning of the tour, and even prior to that, has made a name for herself in shows such as the successful Queens of Africa, Eloha Cirque and Zirkus Des Horrors. Commenting on her beginnings in circus, she says: “When I started learning contortion, I never thought about joining a traveling circus, and did it for myself. Each time I went for training I was just so happy I could spend my time there. Seven years later, I had a thought and knew I wanted this to be my life, and began working harder to achieve that.”
In the final teaser we were shown at the preview, we were shown Circus 1903’s signature act – the headlining puppet elephants, created by the same team who worked on the Tony and Olivier Award winning production of War Horse. Although the highlight was no doubt mother elephant Queenie, a life size puppet weighing in at 350kg and puppeteered by four people, it was little baby Peanut that stole our hearts as the cast attempted to coax him into learning a new trick for the show.
Leading this entire performance and keeping the audience entertained throughout is of course, ringmaster David Williamson, framing each act and ensuring that he always keeps a cool head on his shoulders if an accident happens, whether onstage or offstage. Says David: “I’ve been performing for over forty years, but this is the first time I’m playing a role onstage, having mostly been a comedy magician for most of my career. There’s a lot of moving parts happening and you have to be constantly on your toes. The whole circus is like a big complicated machine, and I always have to be ready with a large bag of tricks to pull from to keep the show going should something happen.”
He continues: “That being said, I come from the world of magic and circus people are really cut from a different cloth. When I was in the Illusionists, each magician in the show came with their own lives, careers and shows. We had a lot of fun working together, but really, we didn’t actually need each other to succeed. Circus is different, you’re nothing without your other acts and we all need to treat each other like a family. We’ve been touring for one and a half years, spending holidays and birthdays together and become very close. I’ve been flying solo all my life, so to be taking this bold new step in the world of entertainment is extraordinary, and that’s what makes this show so special to me.”
On why Singaporeans should come watch the show, Neil Dorward says: “It’s got a lot of heart and soul, a lot of emotions, with plenty of death defying acts balanced out with beautiful and exquisitely performed ones. Everyone from kids to their grandparents can come watch and appreciate it, and really, it’s a throwback to how traditional circuses used to be.”
From what we’ve seen so far, we’re assured that Circus 1903 is set to live up to its subtitle and truly present a golden age of circus with its sheer artistry, spirit and magnificent production value. Watch this space for our upcoming review of the show, or better yet, go watch it for yourself to experience the rare magic of a classic circus once again.
Circus 1903 plays at Mastercard Theatres till 29th April 2018. Tickets available from SISTIC