CIRQUE NIAGARA GOOD OR BAD?
Horses thrill, clowns bore in Cirque Niagara's 'Avaia'
Cirque Niagara's "Avaia" includes spectacular horses, world-class acrobats and droll clowns - how could you go wrong?
Only very slightly, it turns out, with too little of the first and way too much of the last, and an opening segment with far too many slow-paced clown skits.
Perhaps hoping to ease viewers into the magical fantasy world where anything can happen, the circus opened with a clown languidly throwing imaginary pebbles into an imaginary pool, then a second clown emerging from under a bench, setting the bench on end and climbing to the top.
It was amusing-ish, and the crowd applauded politely when the clowns finished. But there was a sharp gasp when three sets of gorgeous costumed horses thundered into the ring, each ridden Roman-style by an elaborately masked figure - standing with a foot on the back of each horse. This was what we came to see.
The equestrian spectacle was followed by a group of acrobats who flowed into indescribable (and nearly unimaginable) towering arrangements. In a three-person-tall human pyramid, the top performer might support herself by a single hand on the head of the man below, for example - and then raise her body into a handstand on that hand.
Other highlights of the first act included two performers in German wheels, two large metal hoops joined by short bars on which the acrobats not only stood, but jumped, twisted and somersaulted. A springy runway trampoline enabled tumblers to sail through the air, and one who turned so many revolutions that his body was a blur drew spontaneous applause and cheers. Three acrobatic men balanced tall metal poles on their foreheads as three women scampered to the top, where they did handstands or hung by a foot.
Unfortunately, after each breathtaking acrobatic and athletic act, the pace of the show was derailed by lengthy clown meanderings. Having them entertain while equipment was moved into place was understandable, but the clowns took up far too much time with their slow-paced, tedious buffoonery. In one unfunny, overplayed and suggestive skit, a clown used a fishing pole baited with a large dollar sign as a lure for an attractive blond woman in the audience.
The very front seats in the big top are rows of padded folding chairs set in railed-in boxes, which obstruct the view of people seated in the front rows of the bleachers behind them. Few critical things happened at floor level, but some did, and missing the action was frustrating.
Although five horses made a magnificent spectacle as they were led into the ring and paraded around by robed figures, and three ethereal light-colored horses made a couple of quick dashes around the ring, the hourlong first act was short on equines. The highlight was a massive Russian Heavy Horse named Ronald who moved gracefully around the ring at speed while agile acrobats vaulted on and off his broad back.
The pace picked up considerably after the intermission, and the short 37-minute second segment was one galloping thrill after another. An incredible display of Cossack riding, with acrobats riding every way except astride a saddle, had people whistling and cheering. And if I hadn't seen one man spring from a standing position on the floor to a standing position on the saddle of a running horse, I would not have believed it could be done. The seven horsemen drew a well deserved standing ovation.
With a few trims and some pacing changes, the entire show could maintain that level of thrills. But a shorter show might eliminate the need for an intermission and the opportunity to buy snacks and souvenirs.