Mini-Review: Josef Svboda's "Wonderful Circus"

  • Mini-Review: The Laterna Magicka's "Wonderful Circus" at the the National Theater in Prague lived up to its name. Don't expect avant-garde theater; instead this piece relies on skilled performers, excellent use of panoramic film images, and a simple story to remind you of what is most important about life.
    Full disclosure: I'm a big fan of the scenography of Josef Svboda, so I'm inclined to like this work. Mostly, after reading so much about him, I was just excited to see something live.
    The first few moments had me worried though: we saw a "black light" bit in which a single rose (painted in fluorescent colors) floated around the stage. I was fearful, at this moment, that I was in for a lot of "cheese." But this part was short, and, by the end of the evening, I found myself moved by the poignancy of the story line.
    The ending especially led you to see that all the circus hijinx were really referring to history and family. Near the end, four dancers appeared in traditional Czech folk dresses, and the hair of the main characters – two clowns – had gone grey. At this moment, the film shows very large Czech family in the back garden of a modest home celebrating a wedding. They gaze out at us (the audience) with a look of quiet solemnity. This moment was for me, quite moving.
    There are many moments throughout when the characters exit the stage and appear in the film or vice-versa -- usually by crawling under the projection screen and into the film In of itself. This is again a bit kitsch and I found myself wanting to hate these bits when I saw them. But, somehow, the integration of these moments into the greater arc of the show won me over. (Certainly, it has me thinking of how I might use such a technique in my own work in a more sophisticated way.)
    Even the black light rose from the beginning was thematic: it returned at key moments throughout the piece to remind you, perhaps, of the simple mystery of life.
    On a technical level it was astounding that Svboda was doing three projector edge-blends with *FILM* in 1977\. (Not to mention shooting the film itself with three cameras.) I sought out a technician after the show, who informed me the method of synchronizing the three projectors consists of a guy at each projector with a variable speed control! Nevertheless, the panoramas were incredibly effective. My parents, who were there with me, commented rightly that they felt like they were seeing a 3D movie at a cinema. It was amazing how enveloping these images were.
    It was also nice to know that all of the film I saw last night was original: they simply find performers who resemble the original actors in the film closely enough that you think they are the same person.
    All in all, I would say that anyone who is interested in putting media onstage needs see one of these Svboda shows at the National Theater if they can. (The technician told me that the best of them is "Graffiiti" -- I may be making a special trip back to Prague to see that one.)

  • Nice review Mark, thanks.  Good to mix some artistic discussion in with our usual technobabble and remind ourselves that these tools are just that and not an end in themselves.