Check out almost any daily news report and you’ll doubtless come to the conclusion that it’s a jungle out there in our wide, conflict-ridden world.
But catch Cirque Dreams Jungle Fantasy this week at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts and you’ll see that yes, at least in the context of the imaginative world of the performing arts, we can all get along.
The artists and daring aerialists in this oh-so-family-friendly show come from all over the world: the United States and Puerto Rico, Belarus, Latvia, Mongolia, Bulgaria, Romania, Ethiopia, Moldova, the Czech Republic — and Russia and Ukraine. Whether or not they get into tussles during rehearsals or on tour, all is harmonious, beautiful and breathtaking when they perform.
Based in South Florida, Cirque Dreams made it to Broadway in the summer of 2008 with Jungle Fantasy, which has made a few local stops during its lengthy touring life while continuing to evolve.
The production at the Broward Center features a fantastical, painterly jungle world by scenic designer Jon Craine and lighting designer Jessica Sentak.
Singer Julia Langley portrays Mother Nature, appearing periodically to croon composer Jill Winters’ generic songs as the world’s hunkiest violinist, Jared Burnett, adds live flavor to the otherwise recorded music. (Burnett, it should be noted, looks like a buff cross between vintage Fabio and Orlando Bloom’s Legolas in the Lord of the Rings movies.)
Creator and director Neil Goldberg doesn’t much bother with a story. Cirque Dreams Jungle Fantasy is really a vehicle for displaying the talents of contortionists, aerialists, jugglers and acrobats. And this cast is certainly talented. Their strength, flexibility and artistry make the performers fascinating to watch, even if the older folks in the audience occasionally groan at the thought of how much it would hurt to become a human pretzel or dangle by the toes of one foot so far above the stage.
Mongolian sisters Buyankhishig and Erdenesuvd Ganbaatar are the aforementioned “pretzels,” amazing contortionists who seem to bend in an infinite number of unnatural ways. Playing a lizard, one of the sisters encircles the waist of violinist Burnett as he keeps right on playing, briefly turning herself into a living belt. Later, the women turn into a pair of beautiful twirling birds, creating one of the loveliest images in the show.
Ukranians Oleksiy Tarevskyy and Natalia Tsarevska are a study in strength, control and grace as they play a pair of birds flying above the stage, later becoming butterflies supported by little more than a loop of silk. The show’s jugglers include Ethiopian Salih Muhammed as a bee who keeps an increasing number of small white balls aloft, Russian Simon Oganisyan as a hunter who manipulates sticks, Czech firecracker Marie Wolfova as a juggling jungle cat and Ethiopian Helen Wonjila as a ladybug who twirls a table with one foot.
The kings of balance are Oleg Bocharov of Belarus as a chair-stacking frog and Latvian Victor Dodonov as a giraffe who balances on things that roll. Romanians Valentin and Adriana Marinescu are roller-skating zebras who defy gravity as they twirl faster and faster. Russian Evgeny Vasilenko walks a highly unstable wire, while Moldovan Petru Vasilachi uses his vast upper body strength to portray a gravity-defying snake charmer and a man who dangles from “vines.”
One lucky participant in the recent Cirque Dreams Kidstime Camp, 11-year-old Kellie Kessling of Davie, is performing with the seasoned pros this week, and it’s easy to see why she was chosen to play the show’s young grasshopper. She’s a flexible, talented, charismatic natural who fits right in with the grownups.
Cirque Dreams Jungle Fantasy is a blend of theater, spectacle and contemporary animal-free circus (well, there are “animals’ in this jungle, but they’re all played by people). Parents who are hearing a late-July chorus of “I’m bored” around the house might think about a family trek to Jungle Fantasy.