The most exciting and innovative circus in the Bay Area isn't coming from Cirque du Soleil, Ringling Bros., or any of the big schools. It's hiding out in an underground training location called The Royal Russian Kung Fu Circus Training Academy of Heaven Mountain by a few, and Sons of Cayuga, by everyone else. The pair responsible claim to have the highest skill level of any local circus in their shows (true), and disdain advertising, claiming that, "when you make mazes for people they try to find the end of the maze."
Tim Barsky and Fleeky Flanco met while working for local circus bad boy Vau-de-Vire. Fleeky, who began his performance career at 17 contorting in BDSM clubs, was familiar with Tim Barsky's work directing Bright River and the hip hop circus troupe City Circus. An androgynous pink-haired hand balancer and a beatboxing flute player might seem an unlikely pairing, but the two have grown close enough to finish each other's sentences, and it shows in their work -- The Pretty Lights series, based on the Charles Mingus jazz workshops, and the ideas of Marcel Duchamp.
Traditionally, circus is created in private rehearsals and then presented to the audience as a finished product -- an approach which involves a large financial investment. Given the current economic climate, building a large scale production from scratch felt impossible for two guys with a warehouse and an idea. According to Barsky, "Mingus wanted to work with a big band in the '60s but couldn't afford it, and hit upon the idea of making people pay to come to the rehearsal, which led to the Lincoln Town Hall Concert." The Pretty Lights series aims to bring together talented performers and showcase, "a series of excerpts from great shows that didn't actually happen."
When you come to a Pretty Lights show, you never know what you might see -- but given their extensive circus network -- you can bet it will be good. Performers are encouraged to try new tricks, which can go either way, but is amazing when it works. At the first installment I was able to see Fleeky's very first one arm block drop -- a trick involving three stacked blocks, a one arm handstand, and a fall from the top of the blocks onto a bench -- as well as a brand new doubles act featuring Orion Griffiths of the Sardine Family Circus.
It remains to be seen if this approach will lead to a large scale production, or just be a fun ride. The traditional route to circus success of corporate sponsors, corporate tie-ins, and grant writing isn't going away anytime soon, but it's probably better suited to people who live in real apartments, and wake up before noon. Or, as Fleeky puts it, "We're trying to develop a fully funded show via no funds, and competition for grants is stupid."
The Pretty Lights Series Part 2: Soft as Glass -- My Life In The Tree of Smoke will play Nov 2, in a secret underground circus theater, for those willing to find their way through the maze. Admission is $10-$20, but no one is turned away for lack of funds.