There's no comparable experience in St. Louis to Circus Flora. The tent is up, the band is in place and children of all ages are wiggling in their seats ready for the show. This is the 29th edition of the small European-style spectacle that's so intimate that when the show is over, the performers are standing outside the exits and thanking guests for coming.
Yes, air conditioning. Yes, live music. Yes, family-friendly - no one will be shushing the children, whose squeals contribute to the atmosphere as much as the music does. There's seldom a dull moment on the lot behind Powell Hall in Grand Center.
This year's show is entitled "One Summer On Second Street", giving us a theme and some characters. It takes place in an unnamed American city during what seems to be the post-World War I period.
They open with a bang with the St. Louis Arches. How can anyone not smile when seeing these kids? Jessica Hentoff's group has produced young ones who have gone on to international careers in circus, and it's easy to see why when you watch them work. Equally smile-producing is Adam Kuchler, a modern clown, as the handyman. No greasepaint, but body language in the classic style, and a pleasure to watch this year, as always. And then there's Iking and Melvin, two Arches alum who are traveling the world but who have returned for part of this year's circus. They're acrobats, and on top of their skills, they seem always to look like they're having a swell time.
Flying so high in the sky, or at least walking and riding bicycles there are the Flying Wallendas. They're headed by patriarch Tino, resplendent in a naval uniform as the captain of the Lusitania, who apparently managed not to go down with the ship and thus is laying low - or, in this case, high - on Second Street. At only slightly less altitude are David Jones and Blaze Birge, known professionally as the Daring Jones Duo, and playing the landlord and his sweetie. They have an intricate trapeeze act that starts out as a tango - and leads one to speculate that most circus performers are probably good dancers, given their awareness of where their bodies are at any given millisecond and need for timing.
Animals? You bet. A rooster named Dos Passos, a couple of goats, a miniature donkey and miniature horse are just the start. Mayya Panfilova's cats leave us applauding, and the Alanian Riders with their horses thunder around the ring.
The newest and most intriguing addition to the Flora cast is Quatuor Bounce, composed of Pauline Baud-Guillard, Jasmin Blouin, Marine Crest and Felix Di Pasquale. What they do is described as wall trampoline. It's amazing, looking effortless and spontaneous but cannot possibly be either. It's the finale to a fine evening that moves along at a good clip. Or maybe that's a good flip.
Kudos to all, from the band and sound direction (between the air conditioning and the crowd, quite a challenge) to Cecil Mackinnon, who continues to write, direct and narrate as Yo-Yo The Clown.
through June 28