Circuses have been in the center-ring spotlight recently, what with Ringling Bros. giving their final performance last May and the Smithsonian Folklife Festival devoting its 50th anniversary program this summer to the topic of circus arts.
Check out what all the fuss is about as the UniverSoul Circus pitches its Big Tent at FedEx Field’s Lot Green D through July 23.
Now in its 24th season, UniverSoul Circus feels like a traditional circus in some ways, compared to a troupe like Cirque du Soleil with its avant-garde directors and themed narratives. UniverSoul has a ringmaster and clowns and has an intimate feel to it, as if it’s the late 1800s and an itinerant family of performers has pulled into your prairie town to entertain you with acrobatic feats. It also feels old fashioned since, at a time when more and more circuses no longer employ animals, UniverSoul presents acts with camels, elephants, zebras, and horses.
But in other ways, UniverSoul feels wholly modern and different: a high-energy urban circus plus Caribbean Carnival plus tent revival. The ringmaster is from South Africa, the clowns are Fresh the Clowns (Youtube “Juju on that Beat dance” or ask your kids), and the contortionists are from Guinea in West Africa.
Dancers from Trinidad & Tobago do the limbo with the bar six inches off the ground – and in flames. The Chinese Silk Troupe from Shenyang, China, perform a beautiful and athletic dance with silk scarves – twirling in mid-air. An acrobatic foursome from Cuba bounce high into the air and do multiple flips before landing back on a trampoline-like bar. And then the Motocross stunt riders come on.
Let’s just say there was some sensory overload going on.
In between the acts, the music gets everyone dancing. Yes, that was my seven-year-old son joining in on the Whip and the Wobble. Members of the audience get picked to participate in crazy-good dance-offs. Vendors roam the bleachers selling $5 cotton candy. Before the show and during intermission, elephant rides go for $10. (It was a popular attraction but I am not a fan of this practice so I refused to let my kids go, though they whined. Sorry, kids!)
More than any other circus I’ve been to, UniverSoul felt like a community event – with the added bonus of athletic virtuosity and death-defying feats. The Big Top wasn’t too big; everyone had a good view of the ring. At the end, all the performers gather for a rousing gospel number (which, I have to admit, was a bit of a surprise since I hadn’t realized that that’s what the soul in UniverSoul referred to). Most of all, the diversity of the performers was inspiring – their strength and daring should spark a lot of dreams.
WHAT TO KNOW
- Tickets range from $16-$40. Shows are daily, except Mondays. Check the website for times. Show lasts 2.5 hour with one intermission.
- Parking onsite is $10 for cars, cash only.
- The show takes place under an air-conditioned Big Top. There are toilets onsite in a trailer.
- There is a concession stand selling chicken wings, funnel cakes and other circus fare. Vendors roam the bleachers hawking popcorn and cotton candy, etc.
Photos courtesy of Universoul Circus.