Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe

Holiday Cabaret
Wise Fool
Review by Frances Madeson

Poster by Jasmine Quinsier
On the heels of their sublime Circus Luminous extravaganza at The Lensic Thanksgiving weekend, Wise Fool was back on the lyra, aerial straps, silks and stilts with an intimate year-end community show in their studio/performance space on Siler Road. Even absent the big venue production values of Luminous, the Holiday Cabaret was brimming with its own sensuous charms and philosophical delights.

If there was a thematic undercurrent to the two and a half hours of acrobatics, contact improvisation and displays of derring-do, it was the marvelous lengths that performers in the Wise Fool family will go to create beauty and wonder. Teenage girls pulled themselves up and down yards of silk with the grace and ease of rappelling spiders, or hung seemingly by their pinkie toes from trapeze bars. A 69-year-old beginner mounted a unicycle, engaging her core and hoping for the best. Gravity was defied, feats of near unbelievable strength and agility were made to look facile, while over and again expectations of what's possible were lifted, and notions of what "should be" were expanded to a limitless what "might be," added instruction, practice, support, and a measure of personal courage.

Borrowing a page from Guys and Dolls' Adelaide, the cabaret's emcee—Ringmaster Rhonda, played by Ilana Blankman—adorably, if nasally, laid out the expectations for the New Year's Eve matinee. "We wanna heah yew hootin' and hollerin' and givin' the perfawmers some enuhgy!" she announced in her most vivid and good humored show girl-ese.

Smoothing over the transitions made necessary by changes in equipment with games and contests, she was well aided by two fine young scamps—head-spinning Gibralter Farrell, age 9, and unicyclist Magnificent Farrell, age 13—who charmingly dispensed prizes and puns: "What did the book call the sea? A title wave. What was the mummy's favorite music? Wrap. Why don't jungle animals play cards? Because of the cheetahs."

Pace the Smothers Brothers, the comedy duo also performed an interview, a wisely funny act of unconditional affirmation, in which no matter what Gibraltar asked Magnificent the answer was always yes, even if it wasn't a yes/no question.

The show, which serves as a showcase for a wide range of circus arts offered in Wise Fool's classes, began with a fabric shadow puppet vignette about Florb the Flurb, an imaginary creature with tentacles and wings who, enacting a dream, climbs a vine hanging from the moon. Next, the song "Pure Imagination" (from Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory) played as a trio of red-nosed adults clowned with a broom, sweeping their way into our psyches ... "Come with me, and you'll be, in a world of pure imagination. Take a look, and you'll see, into your imagination." Scene by scene, act by act, we were being gently coaxed and led into an ever deeper inner world, but one we could all share in simultaneously. In this (profound) way, Wise Fool is deeply theatrical.

This lyrical sense of floating on a cotton candy cloud of sweetness where dreams are reached for and obtained, culminated in what was the highlight of act one: Katy Trusty performing a solo on the lyra to Chancha Via Circuito's "Sueno en Paraguay."

From a supine posture of slumber, lying humbly on the bare floor, Trusty levitated from grounded to airborne in the flutter of an eye. Both encircled by and bursting the confines of the lyra, hers was a dance of verticality that at one point found her holding on with her underarms as she ran in place, knees pumping, going nowhere.

Trusty told me afterward that her choreography was meant to evoke a dreamland "where wandering through the various states, you change seamlessly from one movement to another, even if they aren't alike. Running in a dead hang is scary for a minute, but it's just a dream."

If act one was about "creating a space for humanity to thrive," as Artistic Director Amy Christian told me at intermission, then act two emphasized partnering, which "requires extra strength, because you're holding up someone else." While songs like Rent's "Seasons of Love," Counting Crow's "Colorblind," and Explosions in the Sky's "First Breath After Coma" filled the space with beautiful musical messages, bodies became ever more intricately intertwined in acrobatics, clowning, on the ropes, trapeze and silks. The strength and fragilities of human collaboration were explored in a circus of connectivity in which we were treated to vision after vision of human beings extending themselves one to another in a kaleidoscopic unfolding of generosity, trust, and mutual care.

A contact improvisation piece danced by Amina Re and Fe Fox (with silks) was a pas de deux about growth and sharing, danced to snake charmer music—a song called "Come Back Little Shiva." Re told me afterward her watchwords for the piece were "depth of presence." Their intention was to create a deliberately slow dance where there's "room to breathe and the audience can drop down into their own bodies" while she and her partner move together "from both of our beings—no one leading, no one following."

At a certain moment, Re left the stolidity of their co-movement and climbed up on the silks, high at the top of the fabric, while Fox sunk to one knee to watch her, studying what she was communicating about her energy, skillfulness, capacity, desires. His gaze was not dutiful, it was contentedly intent; he was genuinely interested in who she was, what she'd do and how she'd surprise him. When she descended, he was there on all fours waiting to receive her; she dismounted onto him, back to back, spine to spine.

And they danced again, Fox's movements reinvigorated from what he'd learned by looking at her so deeply for those moments; Re, joyous to be accepted so knowingly by her old friend with a new feeling.

The Wise Fool Holiday Cabaret, Jasmine Quinsier, producer, was held at Wise Fool Studios, 1131 Siler Rd. in Santa Fe, New Mexico, on December 30 and 31, 2016. For more information on the company, visit

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