Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Greatest Show On Earth?

Riding the bus to school last a couple weeks ago, I noticed several giant pink semi trucks parked in a large vacant lot on a busy street that serves as a kind of main artery for the south of the city. The next day a large frame-like scaffold had been erected in the middle of the grass and dirt. It was then that I became curious; were they building a drive in movie theatre? My first attempt to read the sides of the trucks as we sped past was unsuccessful and I only got the word "Ruso" (Russian) because it was by far the biggest.

The next day I recruited help from others on the bus to decipher the script. By this point there were more trucks, more scaffolding and what appeared to be entrance gates. As people peered out the bus windows into the already dusty Cali morning air, the other worlds fell into place one by one - "Ballet!" "Hielo!" "Circo!" "Sobre Hielo!" Adding "Russian" back into the mix, we figured out that this organization of pink trucks and tarps was the "Circo Ballet Ruso sobre Hielo" (Russian Circus Ballet on Ice). What?!?!

Last weekend I went with a couple friends, partly out of curiosity and some burning questions that resurfaced every morning on the bus and partly because it sounds too strange to pass up, to investigate. Is it really "Russian?" What are they doing in Cali, Colombia? In a lot across the street from a supermarket? There can't be ice in that big top, can there?

The Russians and the ice rink...what a circus!

Upon entering the Pepto-Bismal colored big top, there was, in the center of the floor, no more than 20 meters in diameter, an ice rink. On the far end leading away from the main circle of ice to the backstage area was another strip of ice. Cooled presumably from underneath, the ice was frozen but struggling to stay that way. I had brought a sweater just in case the climate was like a hockey arena but I didn't need it. I actually was quite warm throughout the two hour show. As was the ice - it had a light film of water on its surface the entire time that occasionally splashed up when the skaters stopped abruptly or slid on the ground.

Tarzan and Jane "swing" above the ice.
As the lights went down and then up again to show the newly emerged performers, it became clear that this was indeed a "Russian Circus." Decked out in Vegas variety show costumes and cheesy choreography, the company spun and twirled its way through interpretations of "The Little Mermaid" and "Tarzan," the later with a man skating and swinging above the ice stage in only a loin cloth and the requisite skates. There was a "circus" aspect of the show too; several clowning skits took place, mostly as a way to fling water around in an effort to patch up the ice, as well as some stunts involving rings and some juggling all while on skates.

While I'm not about to pass judgment on the skills of any of the performers - anyone who can skate backwards is amazing in my book - I couldn't help thinking these were the figure skating rejects of Russia. You know those stories of training camps that young kids get sent to as children in Russia, China, and some other soviet nations? Well, what happens to the ones that just "aren't Olympic material?" Perhaps they tour South America in a big pink tent?

The only frustrating thing - and I've experienced this before - is that, in Colombia, people don't seem to know when to clap. Many a time it felt as though we were leading the applause. I'm sorry, but when a girl is skating around a tiny rink while spinning twelve hoola-hoops around various parts of her body, that deserves some clapping!

The concept was bizarre, the soundtrack cheesy, and the costumes ridiculous, but it was definitely worth attending. So, when the Russian Circus Ballet shows up in your hometown and sets up their tiny ice rink in a vacant lot, take some time out of your busy schedule to pay them a visit.

1 comment:

jsmarslender said...

Everybody deserves to live a dream.