Thursday, September 13, 2012

"Empire" - A Circus Sideshow Like It Ought To Be

By Judd Hollander
Photo by Thom Kaine

Risqué without being raunchy, and at times absolutely breathtaking, Spiegelworld makes a triumphant return to New York with their latest show Empire.

Upon entering a specially erected tent-like structure on 45th Street and Broadway, the audience is ushered into a sort of carnival world, one filled with performers roaming the aisles, some holding signs saying "Occupy Broadway" or requesting a pair of tickets to The Book of Mormon. There's also a sideshow/revivalist atmosphere of yesteryear present where one expects anything to happen.  

All these pre-show sensibilities and ceremonies come to an end when one of the performers (Elena Lev) steps into a gigantic transparent bubble which descends from the top of the ceiling and executes a series of gymnastic contortions and acrobatic moves that are wondrous to behold, all performed with excellent musical accompaniment.

This sequences slips seamlessly into the arrival of Oscar (Jonathan Taylor), the evening's master of ceremonies. A somewhat drunk sort, he races in while apologizing profusely for being late. He then introduces his wife Fanny (Anne Goldmann), another of the company, while announcing that the two have been rebuilding Spiegelworld from the ground up for this new production, populating the troupe with the best performers they could find. This set up is pretty much all of the narrative the show has to offer, and fortunately, any more than this is really not needed, with one act or presentation quickly succeeding the one that precedes it, all containing impressive feats of agility, movement and at times comedy.

Some memorable highlights include several examples of human pyramids, with members of the company balancing and climbing on each other while using a combination of muscle coordination and strength to hold the different performers in place. There's also a fantastic, and stomach churning sequence where two people on roller skates (Roma Hervida, Sven Rauhe) dance, twirl and lift one another into the air while on a small trampoline placed in the center of the stage. That hi-energy demonstration is followed up by something completely different; as a performer (Rigolo) places pieces of wood together in a complex combination, balancing the entire contraption on one hand with the audience watching in complete silence, almost not even daring to breath as he slowly continues adding pieces to the structure. Other enjoyable sequences include a section using hula hoops, a hair-raising chair balancing act, and one featuring a gigantic wheel with a performer (Yasuaki Yoshikawa) rolling back and forth inside said object.

Empire also contains more than a few burlesque elements, such as a hilarious and sensual number involving an unwitting person plucked from the audience. There's also an extended banana eating sequence which is also quite fun; as well as a act involving performers appearing and disappearing, with it at times being more than the simply the performers, or actually less, that vanish.

What makes the entire show come together with an overall feeling of fun and amazement is the combination of irreverence, standout athletic ability and intense concentration the performers project while presenting their various feats of wonder, all of which make for a nail biting and at times hilarious experience as one questions if everything will come off as planned or if it will all turn into a complete disaster. It's this melding of thrills and awe that leave one either speechless with astonishment or helpless with laughter.

The musical numbers by Lena Hall (Singer) and Martin Hailey (Guitarist) are nicely appropriate. The live singing and musical performances add an extra layer of realism and intimacy to the evening. Lighting effects are alternatively garish and soft when needed. The playing area, a small round stage with its sides made up to look like a Monopoly® game board, is cute and well-utilized.

Empire is a lot of fun and well worth the visit. This is one show to definitely check out.


Featuring: Anne Goldmann (Clown, wife "Fanny"), Jonathan Taylor (Clown, Impresario "Oscar"), Lena Hall (Singer), Martin Hailey (Guitarist), Anastasiia Gavrylenko (Banqiune - Female Trio), Anastasiia Permiakova (Banqiune - Female Trio), Olena Lomaga (Banqiune - Female Trio), Elena Lev (Aerial Bubble & Hoops), Tariku Degefa (Risley Act), Yonas Alemu (Risley Act - Little Boy), Ludivine Furnon (Adagio Duo - Female), Martin Charrat (Adagio Duo - Male), Yasuaki Yoshikawa (German Wheel)
Roma Hervida (Skater - Female), Sven Rauhe (Skater - Male), Rigolo (Sandornbalance & Spinning Top on Drift Wood), Yuchun Wei (Ballet on Shoulder - Female), Yunming Liu (Ballet on Shoulder - Male), Vladamir Malachkin (Chair Balance)

Presented by Spiegelworld
265 West 45th Street
Running Time: 90 Minutes, no intermission
Closed: September 2, 2012

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