“People, are you ready? Circolombia is in the room!” This was the chant that began slowly and tentatively and built to a full on proclamation complete with fist pumping and other crowd pleasing moves, like hip hop dance, soulful signing and ultimately, circus. All of this was part of the show Acéléré by Circolombia at Chicago Shakespeare Theater, scheduled as the culminating program of Destinos–Chicago International Latino Theater Festival. Circolombia is in town for a limited engagement (October 24-November 4), and just back from a long stint at Edinburgh Fringe on its world tour.
In our second duo review, Third Coast Review theater staffer Karin McKie and I attended together in order to tackle the concept of circus appeal head on for this lively show that featured everything from acrobats to aerialists and, of course, some powerful Latin beats. Acéléré means accelerate in Spanish, and the vibe of the show is certainly full of energy and speed, but along with energy came the theme of balancing strength and risk with teamwork and support as the cast worked its way through some invigorating cumbias and mixed it all up with circus routines on perch pole, cloudswing, Russian bar and more.
Director Felicity Simpson also founded the circus school Circo Para Todos, which ultimately birthed Circolombia as a way to give the professional graduates an opportunity for international employment. In an interview this past summer, Simpson explained how half of the profits from their tour would be rerouted back to the circus school to help train underprivileged children in circus, but that she didn’t want audiences to get the impression that the current cast of Acéléré were previous Circo Para Todos graduates, when in fact they are the highest level professional circus performers from Colombia.
Karin and I discussed all of the aspects of the show on the ride home:
Kim: You watch a lot of theater and opera throughout the year. What is it that is refreshing about seeing some contemporary circus for a change?
Karin: In a world inundated with non-stop chatter, moving attention to the body is refreshing. I adore wordplay, but it’s relaxing to only have to process movement, and excellent movement at that.
Human circus is about exalting the body, what flesh and bone can accomplish with imagination and bodies of steel. Unlike seeing Shakespeare, watching circus encourages me to do more core training.
KC: We talked a little bit about how this show has that youthful energy and high skill, but has an element of danger, maybe in part because it’s lacking a little of the polish one gets from Cirque du Soleil type shows. But one thing that surprised me in the program was a statement from the director Felicity Simpson, “This [show] is all about taking risks and having the courage to move forward. And, most importantly it’s the girls who lead the way.” Did you get any sense from the show last night that the female characters were leading the action?
KM: Two female singers were indeed the ringmasters, providing introductory and interstitial moments. Otherwise, I think the gender representation was equal. As a creaky old broad, I definitely felt the youth vibe, especially since several acts relied on specific body parts—a mouth-to-mouth aerial lift using a dental device, another movement in the air where a neck strap held two body weights, and a guy balancing a large hoop and a female acrobat on his forehead. I still have sympathetic compression in my cervical vertebrae.
KC: Did anything about Acéléré surprise you? Were there elements and acts that you didn’t expect to see, or vice versa?
KM: The main surprise was seeing this specific circus show at Chicago Shakespeare. I appreciate their global collaborations and presentations, including the current trio of shows from Belgium, but most have a classical anchor. Using the newish Yard space for larger productions is welcome, but I wondered why this particular show was programmed.
Unlike you, I’ve only seen circuses like Cirque in tents, and I like seeing them in buildings. The temperature is more regulated.
KC: It seems like Chicago Shakespeare Theater is beginning to program a bit of circus here and there. What do you imagine the Chicago Shakespeare Theater audience will take home with them from the experience of seeing this circus show?
KM: Like the night we saw the show, I think our liberal city will give an appropriately enthusiastic welcome to performers from other parts of the Americas. As an activist, I cannot separate today’s violently divisive politics from anything and I welcomed giving support to diverse perspectives especially from people of color.
Latinx folks aren’t what POTUS calls them—they are innovative, passionate, talented artists and people.
KC: Can you describe a moment or act in the show that was moving in some way to you?
KM: Again, unable to escape the news, I flashed on the “south-of-the-border caravan” at the top of the show. The performers, all wearing neutral t-shirts, jeans and shorts, marched out on stage in a unit. I thought, “we’re all just moving towards a better life;” here, on stage, towards a celebration of what humans can imagine and execute.
KC: Do you feel Circolombia represented their culture with the performance? You mentioned that their entrance felt like a nod to the caravan that is heading north, hoping to gain asylum in the US. What gave you that impression? Do you feel it was intentional?
KM: I don’t think it was intentional. And I would have liked to see more about Colombia specifically. Each speaker was fluent in English, and American dance moves like popping and locking were included. I think US culture has become too prevalent, sometimes subsuming indigenous character. I wanted to learn more about Colombia, to dispel stereotypes like aggressive drug culture, to learn about the particular music styles and the like.
KM: What did the singers bring to the experience?
KC: The singers were the contemporary solution to the ringmaster—arriving when the energy level needed a boost, tying acts together with their energy and tossing in some cultural specific energy, sometimes even singing or speaking in Spanish, and of course, ramping up the dance moves and the party vibe.
The opening cumbia of Acéléré says a lot about the inspiration for the show–about the need for fortitude, but sadly without specific references or details:
“Accelerate, this is about to start
Accelerate, there is no turning back
A deep breath as I walk, as I fly, and as I fall
My sorrows make me laugh, make me cry, make me sing
Now, I leave
Today I move on
My heart is showing me the way.”
Circolombia’s show Acéléré will be at Chicago Shakespeare Theater on Navy Pier until November 4. Tickets are $25-$45.
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