Clown Around Town, the Big Apple Circus’s 23rd production, perfectly marries simple materials to elegant technique. In the compact tent (Damrosch Park through January 7), every seat is a good one, perfect for watching Dania Kaseeva spin dozens of hula hoops, reliving the World Series with a team of Moroccan acrobats, and gaping as Serge Percelly—who eerily resembles Ricky Martin—juggles tennis rackets. The program celebrates strength, pulchritude, and silliness with international artists, including clowns Jeff Gordon and Tom Dougherty. Lisa LeAnn Dalton—Pilobolus alum, Streb member, and denizen of downtown spaces—choreographs the show. Paul Binder and Michael Christensen, who founded this nonprofit circus in 1977, were recently designated New York Living Landmarks, a status they deserve.
Though the ring is really too small to accommodate six horses (they trot in a circle but can’t manage any fancy stuff), the human performers are so crafty, and so gifted, that no one cares. A climactic magic act, by Kaseeva and her husband, David Maas, reveals the duo to be astonishing quick-change artists. The high point of the show—possibly of the fall arts season—is a ballet for streamers of toilet paper, held aloft by first one and then a phalanx of clowns wielding leaf blowers. Youngsters will have the urge to try this at home, so either stock up on bumwipe or hide your hair dryer. —Elizabeth Zimmer
Just east of Times Square, adjacent to Fun City Video, stands a nondescript storefront (111 West 42nd Street) with an empty show window. Raucous music blares from a speaker on the sidewalk, eventually drawing a crowd. Soon after 7:30, a figure lumbers into the window, dressed from head to toe in accordion-folded brown paper bags, looking like a cross between the Tin Man and the Scarecrow. This is DD Dorvillier’s 1991 The Bagman, performed November 8 by Jennifer Monson. To the strains of Debussy, she plays with toy horses and pours flour over her head. After shaking so hard that the bags fall off, she climbs out through a slot in the window and bolts down the street.
Later, seated on banquettes in the bare space inside, we listen to the stomping of Dorvillier herself in The Handsome Execution of a Flower. For nearly an hour she transforms herself—through stunning costumes constructed of lace, leather, lengths of red satin, and other seductive materials—into a woman, probably a professional in the sex trade, who both asserts her strength (in symmetrical poses) and plays coyly with the viewer (in kittenish off-kilter ones). A box of chocolates glued to the wall serves at one point as a phone. Dorvillier stretches and jigs, throws herself down and rolls on her back, ties her limbs in knots. It’s gorgeous but bewildering, a portrait that does not resolve. Kenta Nagai provides the evocative score, and David Herrigel the harsh, dramatic lighting. It’s gently ironic that experimental artists, driven from downtown by high rents, are finding performance berths in the shadows of midtown. Both pieces will be repeated through Saturday, with a different performer in the window nightly. —E.Z.
David Neumann always wanted to choreograph to the soundtrack of a kung fu film. He and Stacy Dawson came up with Pearl River, a blissfully ignorant performance piece riffing off kung fu films (through November 26 at P.S. 122). What started as one-minute entr’actes during the Ontological Theater’s Seven Minute Series “cracked us up so much” says Neumann, that “we decided to do a bigger show.” Bamboozled it was not.
Justin Kawashima and Darren Ryan’s wha-pow! soundtrack includes accented dialogue (which the characters deliberately lip-sync poorly) to keep the plot going. Fighters fight about nothing; an eager young boy tries to get the girl; her elderly father wanders around in his underwear looking for ghosts while training two flunkies in ancient Chinese endurance tests; ghosts in fluorescent orange wigs dance; and a demon drag-queen lip-syncs to “The Sounds of Silence.” The phrase “Something smells” and the action of pulling down pants and sticking out tongues while “speaking” recur. Despite ingenious choreography, I missed the punch line. —MiRi Park