Review of The Trial of the Century at Circus Flora

    Hooray! The Circus is in town!

    Well, actually, Circus Flora, its offices and its Big Top tent are always in town. St. Louis is Circus Flora’s home.

    But once a year, for a couple of weeks, Circus Flora invites the rest of St. Louis, and our neighbors and friends, to come to the Big Top so they can share with us what they do. It is always a treat.

    Circus Flora tells a story with its Circus. This year’s story is The Trial of the Century. Barely has the company marched into the ring when a masked figure clad all in black sneaks into the ring, grabs costumes and props, and absconds with them. 

    There must be a trial, the Trial of the Century, to discover the scoundrel and impose fit punishment. Soon we are in a courtroom, designed by Margery and Peter Spack in broadly cartoonish style, with impressive columns that don’t look very steady. We have a prosecutor and a lawyer for the defense and a judge. The judge we know, because she has always presided over Circus Flora’s performances. It’s Yo-Yo the clown, clad by costume designer Nina Reed in a splendid gown and a magnificent, snow-white and huge, British judge’s wig, which Cecil MacKinnon, in one of the finest balancing acts of the evening, keeps magisterially erect.

    Court proceedings are regularly interrupted, as Circus Flora’s stories always are, with the main events of the evening, the performances of the circus artists. I always look forward to the young and immensely skilled St. Louis Arches. Nobody sleeps while the Arches are on. The action never pauses. Their director and teacher Jessica Hentoff recombines familiar acrobatics in new patterns and adds a trick or two. They are a joy.

    Also joyful is Swingup Trampowall, a woman and two men who bounce merrily off a trampoline which sends them up the wall of the courtroom. Again, the action never stops. I am always exhilarated by the freedom of these people as they soar unimpeded through the air, ever higher and higher.

    Laura Lippert was in the abbreviated Circus Flora performance early in the summer. She performs acrobatics in the air while hanging by her hair. The prospect garnered some gasps of concern as the audience realized what she was doing. Kellin Quinn also returns, juggling small discs rather than clubs, with a companion assisting. Danielle Saulnier impresses with her three-point hand balancing. Duo Rose, husband-and-wife Samuel and Sylvia Rose, bring the elegance of ballet to their complex aerial acrobatics. Maryna and Svitlana Savitska have trained two cats, the Savitsky Cats, to perform the sort of tricks we expect dogs to do. They do them well, though with a certain nonchalance, and, for the honor of cats everywhere, with sometimes a certain reluctance until they decide that well maybe, this time, we will do what they want us to do. Jonathan Burns is this year’s clown, interspersing his role as the defense attorney with magic tricks, contortions, and frequent interaction with the audience. Once again, the Flying Cortes bring the evening to a thrilling climax as they soar through the air from trapeze to trapeze. I though the leader did succeed in performing a triple; Gerry thought he only did a double.

    Music Director Janine Del’Arte again leads the Circus Flora Band, a tight ensemble, in the music she and Miriam Cutler composed. Jesse Alford designed the lights, Gary “Bear” Wilbur is the Tentmaster, Tony Andrews has improved the sound clarity. Cecil MacKinnon directed The Trial of the Century, and she and Jack Marsh, the company’s Artistic Director, wrote the story, with Hovey Burgess as Dramaturg.

    What a good time when Circus Flora is performing in town.

    —Bob Wilcox

    Photo by  Beau Shoulders