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Wendy Rose: St. John’s Circus Fest over the top

Wendy Rose: From where I was sitting … I was slightly concerned that maestro Mark David was at risk of getting kicked in the head by a dangling aerialist.— Photo by Christopher Deacon
Wendy Rose: From where I was sitting … I was slightly concerned that maestro Mark David was at risk of getting kicked in the head by a dangling aerialist.— Photo by Christopher Deacon - Contributed

First annual international festival mixes up fun, music and amazement

The circus is in town this week, as the first annual International St. John’s Circus Fest amuses and amazes the capital city from Sept. 27-30.

The festival opened with sold-out show at the LSPU Hall on Thursday, and continued throughout the weekend, with performances and workshops taking place at various locations over four days.

On Friday, the family friendly fun moved to the Arts and Culture Centre, where the Newfoundland Symphony Orchestra (NSO) teamed up with the National Circus School of Montreal to create “Under The Top,” a rousing and diverse show displaying many unique talents and feats onstage.

After a pre-show from Wonderbolt Circus and iFLY Aerial Arts, the sold-out evening show, lovingly dedicated to the memory of NSO patron Christine Moore, began at 8 p.m.

The first in the NSO’s Masterworks Series, this performance began with local composer Andrew Staniland’s “Sounds from the Edge,” an original score created through a partnership with the N.L. Department of Tourism and the NSO.

One of the brightest highlights of the show was actually the host, Mooky the Clown who entertained the crowd while providing introductions and background information on the circus artists. Mooky was quite the performer herself, creating laughter through visual comedy and a semi-believable fake crush on maestro Mark David.

Aiming to “reflect our own unique soundscape,” this piece featured added vocals from Shallaway choir and a striking visual accompaniment of Newfoundland scenery, the rising crescendos perfectly matching crashing waves and breaching whales.

The orchestra continued to impress with John Ecstacio’s “Trumpet Concerto”, a 2017 piece commissioned by nearly 20 orchestras nationwide. Trumpeter Jens Lindemann shone during this piece, which could be described in many vastly different ways throughout – captivating, inspiring, evocative, frenzied, serene, and powerful.

My friend caught me staring, fully entranced. “It really blows your mind, doesn’t it?” he asked.

I replied truthfully, “Always does.” 

The set finished with “Song of Hope,” the theme song for Cancer Blows, a organization working to raise awareness and funds for cancer research through musical performances.

After a 25-minute intermission, the circus began. With the orchestra condensed into the back half of the stage, the aerialists and circus performers had ample room — from where I was sitting, however, I was slightly concerned that maestro Mark David was at risk of getting kicked in the head by a dangling aerialist. 

With the orchestra condensed into the back half of the stage, the aerialists and circus performers took over at the Arts & Culture Centre in St. John’s. — Photo by Christopher Deacon
With the orchestra condensed into the back half of the stage, the aerialists and circus performers took over at the Arts & Culture Centre in St. John’s. — Photo by Christopher Deacon

This didn’t happen of course, as the Circus Fest runs a tight and safe ship, though the audience was understandably on edge.

Finland’s Kerttu Pussinen amazed on straps loops, with Yukoner Alyssa Bunce and Montreal based Jérôme Simard mesmerizing the crowd with their aerial hoop acts. On the corde lisse, Australian Sandy Tugwood performed daring acrobatic feats. The audience was silent throughout Marie-Ève Dicaire’s intense hand-dancing routine, demonstrating her impressive strength.

All the way from Georgia, Robert Cookson struck fear into my heart as he rolled around with a roue cyr (large wheel). I was sure he was going to crush his fingers, but of course, he did not.

One of the brightest highlights of the show was actually the host, Mooky the Clown (Gloria Revue) who entertained the crowd while providing introductions and background information on the circus artists. Mooky was quite the performer herself, creating laughter through visual comedy and a semi-believable fake crush on maestro Mark David.

“Under the Big Top” was over the top, in the best way possible, bringing two unique and vastly different communities of artists together for one spectacular evening.
I’m already excited for next year’s St. John’s International Circus Fest.

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