By Joe DeRosa
You walk into The Yard at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater. You sit down. You look around. Like 99.99% of the people in the world, you’ve never seen--or probably even thought of--a Colombian Circus Troupe, and you don’t really know what to expect. But there are promising signs. The crowd is buzzing. You can hear their conversations. “This is really special... Heard about it from a friend… He said... She said... You have to see it to believe it!” You hear the music and you can feel the energy building in the theater.
And then, with a palpable, pulsing beat--set to a hip-hop, Salsa rhythm--Circolumbia’s Acelere explodes into an hour-long, utterly artistic, ultra-athletic, panic provoking, periodically terrifying, death-defying, magically brave, flat out intense, and, at times, kinda moving, thrill ride.
Long story short: You’ve never seen anything like it.
Is it a circus? No animals or anything, but, yeah, if by circus you mean a super high energy, exuberant troupe from Bogota that rockets out on stage and spends the next 60 minutes blowing you away with a combination of aerial arts and acrobatics, then, sure, it’s a circus! So it’s like Cirque du Soleil? Well… no… but it’s not trying to be. It’s a different style. If you want to get what I mean, just close your eyes and imagine Cirque du Soleil, but trade out the big production elements, flashy costumes, and polish for a joyful, sexy, “watch me repeatedly risk serious injury while my friends dance, rap, and sing in Spanish” vibe, and you’ll have it!
With its ecstatic energy and overflowing elation (these performers are really seriously very happy considering they spend most of the hour one slip away from the hospital), Acelere is the perfect culmination of the Destinos Latino Theater Festival. And Chicago’s Shakespeare Theater’s Navy Pier space, The Yard, is the ideal venue. With three levels of seating, the very vertical space is a perfect fit for a very vertical show. And, make no mistake, this show is a non-stop, highly entertaining, thrill ride.
The talented, super-fun, Juliana Valentina Toro Velasquez and Diana Patricia Vargas Montoya sing and rap through Acelere, providing a musical backdrop that gives the show both a love-inspired carnival feel and a personal connection with the audience. Yet, at heart, director Felicity Simpson and choreographer Carlos Neto’s vision for Acelere rests in its simple, creative, courageous--sometimes more than a little crazy--envisioning of circus arts. The costumes are street-inspired and functional, so as not to distract. And--from Velasquez and Montoya’s exultant singing and rapping, to the ensemble’s acrobatics, to Mateo Giron Damas and Wilmer Andres Martinez’s performances on the teeterboard, to Juan David Campo Teran, Jarrinson Cuero Martinez, Cesar Steve Izquierdo Acevedo, Jeferson Londono Cartagena, and the unbelievably expressive and talented Laura Patricia Tenorio Cuan’s amazingness on the Russian balance bar, to the tour de force, power and balance Perch routine, in which Juan Carlos Acosta Morales defies the laws of physics by balancing a giant iron ring on his forehead while Sandra Ibanez Ramierez spins, twirls, and lifts her way through a hoop routine, culminating in a handstand in the splits on said ring perched on said forehead, to Julia Alejandra Sanchez Aja’s breathtakingly exquisite grace on the “Cloudswing”--the concept, pure and simple, is the naked, unapologetic, focus on the performers’ athleticism, ability, and artistry.
When it comes down to it--in a very cool, ultra-brave way--the fifteen performers that make up the Circolumbia family (troupe doesn’t quite do it) make no attempt to surprise. Their aim is clear. They are going to do something a person should not possibly be able to do. And then they’re going to do something even more incredible. And it might not work, but you know they’re going to do it anyway... because they love it. There’s no misdirection, and the difficulty level leaves little room for certainty or polish, but their goal is simple: to amaze. And somewhere in all that bravery, artistry and incredibly explosive joy you’ll find Circolumbia’s magic.
Acelere Circolumbia runs through November 4th at The Yard at Chicago Shakespeare Theater, Navy Pier. Tickets are $20-$45. Call 312-595-5600 or www.chicagoshakes.com.