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  • Writer's pictureJen Norris

Review: Circus Bella presents ‘Kaleidoscope’ Dec 15-31, 2023, The Crossing at East Cut San Francisco

San Francisco’s own homegrown circus, Circus Bella has pitched a big top tent downtown this December.  Family friendly fare has never been more fun. Just like days with your funniest friends when your cheeks ache from smiling too much, Circus Bella’s Kaleidoscope left me with an aching jaw after ninety minutes of awe-inspired, open-mouthed gaping and giggling. 


Circus Bella - Full Company - Photo Credit: Daisy Rose Coby


Offering a respite from real world responsibilities, Circus Bella welcomes one and all, into their dazzling world. While billed as a “holiday spectacular,” Kalidescope is refreshingly free of any representation of the omnipresent Winter holidays. Ready to entertain and amuse in the tried-and-true way of big tops of old, the diverse cast delights in each other’s talents and our presence. 


Located a few blocks from the Embarcadero, the red and white striped tent beckons us. An effective antidote to any rumored doom loop, Circus Bella is set to draw families from around the Bay to its transit friendly location at The Crossing at East Cut (corner of Main and Howard).  Ideal entertainment for ages three to ninety-three, even the concession stand has something for everyone, with cotton candy and popcorn, as well as adult beverages. The venue’s intimate scale brings an immediacy to the proceedings, and sightlines are well managed with seating surrounding a raised circular stage.


Circus Bella director, producer, and multi-talented performer, Abigail Munn, serves as our host.  In bejeweled tailcoat she is introducing acts one moment, while the next finds her smiling radiantly while gamely managing a juggling juggernaut, exchanging pins with eight castmates. Munn’s charming rendition of “It’s Only a Paper Moon,” sung from the bandstand and then amidst the clowns, who join her with foil crescent moon in hand, is an excellent reminder of our role as believers in the magic of live performance.  Indeed, “it’s only a canvas sky, hanging over a muslin tree,” unless we believe together.  


The Circus Bella All Star Band, led by accordionist, composer and music arranger Rob Reich, supplies the enchanting underpinning of this extravaganza. Live musical accompaniment is a beautiful and rare thing these days. In tune with, and responsive to, the stage antics, the All Stars are at the ready with a tuneful reprise, should juggler’s errant toss require a redo.  Dressed in blue and gold marching band uniforms complete with toy solider hats, the ensemble resembles the cast of a ‘Music Man’ production.


Circus Bella All Star Band – Photo Credit: Emil Alex


Each artist has their own specialty and apparatus. Many of the acts are gravity defying and rely on the extreme strength, skill and daring-do of the performers. Toni Cannon walks vertically up the Chinese Pole, like a cartoon character might climb a palm tree. Arching backwards from his cross legged perch near the top of the pole, Cannon’s body suddenly plummets downward. His trajectory stops mere inches above the deck, with the clenching of his thighs, as the audience gasps.


Spinning above, below, and within her aerial hoop, Lyra artist, Dwoira Galilea sparkles like a mirror ball. For her final trick, Galilea’s extreme speed makes the hoop all but disappear and her long body becomes a blurring strip of light.


Aerial Strap artist Veronica Blair displays a sultry strength and grace. Floating in air, attached to two long straps by a foot and fist, she offers dramatic split-legged poses and thrilling mid-air somersaults.


Contortionist Elise Hing displays otherworldly suppleness and the elegance of a dancer in a mesmerizing routine choreographed by Leslie Tipton.  With deep backbends, and feet that hover near ears, Hing’s flexibility and unique bodily forms astound, while her warm smile and sparkling eyes draw us in.


Handbalancing doesn’t sound that sexy until you see Kyran Walton hover his body horizontal to the ground, supported by one arm. With powerful control and agility Walton assumes numerous gravity-defying shapes while balancing upside down atop a disc capped pole.


Some performers refuse to settle for a sure thing and test the boundaries of their capabilities to great effect.  Jefferson Freire juggles pins and rings with confidence, but it is his juggling while riding a tall unicycle that thrills.  Rola Bola performer Ori Quesada amusingly manages to dress himself while balancing on a board in constant rolling motion atop an 8” hollow tube. Upping the ante, Quesada places a metal bowl on his head and proceeds to flip other bowls, a cup, and even a spoon from the end of the balancing-board into the growing pile of objects balanced on his head, all while tipping precariously, but never falling off the rolling tube.  His near misses are as entertaining as the successful tosses, and serve as an excellent reminder that a second or third try may be necessary, even for a pro.


The breathtaking acts are interspersed with clowning vignettes. Circus Bella clowns Calvin Kai Ku, Jamie Coventry and Natasha Kalusa are the frosting that holds the many layers of circus-cake together.  Their sight-gags, pratfalls and comic antics tickle the funny bones of even the youngest audience members.


Entering in long yellow rain slickers, the clowns moonlight as magicians, producing umbrellas out of thin air as part of their “A Rainy Day” skit.  They use the crowd to conjure a rain storm, leading us in a round of palm-sliding, then finger-snapping and finally rapid thigh-slapping that in totality sounds like driving rain, which then with their conducting ebbs to a gentle patter.


The award for Circus MVP goes to Kalusa who clowns, juggles, and sings, but also hula hoops up to a dozen hoops at a time. She’s never met a hula hoop she couldn’t control. She can spin them with her foot, or twirl them on her arms, she can rotate them with her neck, her belly or her hips, all while putting her elastic face through a series of hysterical expressions.


Embodying the kaleidoscope theme, costume designer Autumn Adamme selects a different jewel tone for each performer. Costuming most in form-fitting sequins, she uses feathery fascinators in the women’s hair to add a bit of roaring-twenties sophistication.

One of the charms of live performance is that each show is slightly different. This is all the more true at the circus, where tricks succeed and occasionally fail with some unpredictability.  I am definitely returning to Circus Bella during this thirty-one-performance run.  I hope to see you there!


Review by Jen Norris, published December 16, 2023


Circus Bella's Tent Night Shot – Photo Credit: Kirk Marsh

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Production Credits

Abigail Munn | Director

Veronica Blair | Aerial Straps

Toni Cannon | Chinese Pole

Jamie Coventry | Clown

Jefferson Freire | Juggling and Unicycle

Dwoira Galilea | Aerial Hoop

 

Elise Hing | Contortion

Natasha Kaluza | Clown and Hula Hoops

Calvin Kai Ku | Clown

Kirk Marsh | Duo Hat Juggling

Julie Marshall | Duo Hat Juggling

 

THE CIRCUS BELLA ALL STAR BAND:

Rob Reich | Bandleader - Accordion, Keyboard, Glockenspiel»

Clare Armenante | Violin »

Ian Carey | Trumpet »

Kasey Knudsen | Saxophone »

Michael Pinkham | Percussion »

Jonathan Seiberlich | Tuba »

PRODUCTION TEAM:

Autumn Adamme | Costume Design »

Charis Lam | Lighting Designer »

Carlo Gentile | Production Director »

James Touzel | Sound Engineer »

Jack Weinstock | Roustabout and Company Artisan »

Daniela Blancas | Marketing Intern »

 

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