Nickolas Souren is one of the new generation of circus jugglers now appearing in shows all over the U.S.A. and Canada. Born to French circus performers in Baja, Mexico, 22 years ago, the tall, blonde, blue-eyed young man spends 10 months a year traveling with his mother, stepfather, half-brother and half-sister. When not on tour, they reside in Sarasota, Fla. Souren is a sports fanatic, and loves to play basketball, tennis and football.
Souren's father was a swaypole performer, and his mother still does single trapeze and other aerial acts. Rather than follow in their footsteps, Souren taught himself to juggle when he was 13. Practically every circus has at least one juggler, so young Souren had plenty of models to learn from. He learned mainly by observation and practice, picking up pointers along the way from such professionals as Sampion, and Francis and Lottie Brunn. He especially admires Kris Kremo, Albert Lucas and Ignatov, and has learned much from studying videotapes of their performances.
Souren has himself introduced simply as "Nickolas." He begins his act by running into the ring doing a fast five ball cascade. He then juggles three clubs, triples into flats, single back crosses, a fast flash. He does a series under the legs, finishing with a high flash. Next, a four club routine, triple/single with one back cross, shower, columns, more back crosses. All his club routines end with single or double pirouettes. He juggles six rings for five passes, pulling them down on his neck. Back to clubs, he juggles five, with single back crosses, under the legs, then flashes them with a pirouette finish. Then eight rings, again ending with neck pulldowns. He ends his act with torches, thrown very high, to a pirouette finish.
Souren also performs a comedy knockabout table act, with his step-father.
Souren practices at least two hours a day, which is a feat in itself on a touring show, where much of one's day is taken up just getting to the next town and setting up for the show. Some circus work consists of multiple day stands, but the majority of shows are one-nighters.
It is not surprising then to learn that Souren's ambition is one day to work the casinos in Reno and Las Vegas, with their high-paying, long-running contracts in one place. To improve his chances, he is practicing nine rings, and three and five club back crosses with single and double pirouettes.
With his dedication to practice and clean, polished performance, not to mention his winning smile, he has a good start toward that goal.
Montreal's Cirque du Soleil rises like a magic castle on the cold, windy plain of King Street in San Francisco. The "Nouvelle Experience" show inside can only be described with extraordinary superlatives - brilliant and visionary.
The first act opens with four contorting sylphs, pretzeling their young bodies like ancient yoga masters in tortuous positions.
Consider the next vision: Form becoming substance as Ann Lepage floats up through a lifting fog. This Silver Medal winner at the Festival Mondial du Cirque in Paris pumps high on her trapeze. Her body rising, then falling through space. Her arms reach out, but her ankles catch the bar in the last instant, holding her suspended above us.
Giants with pin heads shuffle quietly in the background as a great round marble moves mightily through the mist with a midget balanced upon it. Tiny feet power the globe slowly uphill while his sad, arched back turns from the light, refusing to mix with the strange creatures of this new world.
Isabelle Brisset, a tightrope walker from France, appears floating in the center of a velvet brocade patchwork quilt. Wire watchers peer at her intently from either end of the rope as she mounts. Her slippers delicately grip the wire, then mince their way across, pausing, pirouetting back and forth.
The fog descends, swirls and parts. Lifting before us like Samson in a G string is Vladimir Kechaje, a spectacular gymnast from Moscow's Soyuzgorscirk Experimental Studio. His stunning Michaelangelo body soars across the night-blue heaven like a winged bird of prey, hunting above us and then plunging, briefly touching earth before gliding back up to his eyrie.
A Stan Laurel clown-clone, AKA David Shiner, runs down the ramp. An American from Colorado, Shiner "made his bones" doing street theatre across Europe. Snatching people from the audience, he places them around the stage, bullying and directing them into Oliver-like performances in a hilarious love scene.
After a brief intermission we watch as a red carpet is rolled slowly down through an aisle of pumpkin lanterns. A Chinese pixie with black Rapunzel hair descends daintily into the ring, rapidly spinning a large pink parasol. Laying her body gracefully back onto a red silk couch, she raises her legs to the heavens, and catches the unfurled umbrella on both feet. This antipodist, Wang Hong of China, is winner of a Gold Medal at the Seventh Festival Mondial du Cirque de Demain for her "Magic Feet of the Orient" routine. She flips the parasol from one toe to the other on its open revolving rim. Manipulating its edge with her feet, she flips it higher into the air where it catches the breeze and wafts gently down to a precarious perch on the edge of her foot. Adroitly flipping it end over end it lands, handle first, on the top of her big toe. She adds a second parasol and rotates it to hyperspeed on one foot while the other foot flips the original parasol in a rolling, looping motion. Then she gently brings them both to rest.
A helper, waiting silently beyond the lights, comes forward whirling a scarlet oriental carpet between her hands. Wang reaches out with a finger to catch it mid-spin and lays back once again. The carpet flips to one foot where it appears to hover, UFO-like, spinning in the air. Another carpet is added to the other foot, and both go arching into the air, changing sides. Two more are added, one to each hand. All twirl like dervishes until they are finally allowed to land, limp and spent. Madame Hong exits, saucily spinning her pink parasol behind her.
Wang Hong ("rainbow" in English) is 25 years old. She was raised in the cold, far northeast province of Jain on China's Soviet border. No one in her family was in the circus, but a local talent scout recognized her potential. At 10 years old she began training with a gymnast, loving it while her parents decidedly did not. They wanted her to pursue an academic career.
But they are delighted now. Wang Hong's routine is so unique that she is considered a world class performer, commanding the highest salary and all the privileges that accompany a star, including free housing and medical care for her and her family. She feels she has a solid five years left in her juggling career and would then like to become a coach.
With her exit, Vassilie Dementchoukov of the USSR arrives holding a three-tiered chocolate cake. Balancing by one hand on the backs of two chairs and holding the cake aloft, he begins stacking the chairs beneath him to climb, hand over hand, up the growing, leaning tower. Suddenly the back of one chair cracks, leaving him shaken and unable to conclude the act.
The flame-haired, rotund ringmistress, France La Bronté, and her loony cohort, Brian Dewherst, run roughshod over all the chaotic clowns, creating a diversion and a bridge between acts.
Gaunt, Giacometti-like figures slide along the periphery of our vision, casting giant shadows on the tent walls. The beat quickens and climbing the ropes high to his roost on the trapeze bar we watch as the catcher eases his muscular body into place, settles and waits with a Zen calm. The flyer takes to the bar and waits, too, matching her breathing with the swinging movement. She leaps, swans out through space, trusting completely that the strong arms and hands of her catcher will reach out to pluck her unerringly from the earth's pull before flight becomes fall. His hands grasp her slight wrists tightly and with each pass he lifts her body higher until, with a final twist, he thrusts her back to the swinging bar as it does its pas-de-deux in mid-air. The energy crackles until the aerialists complete their flight, release and come gracefully somersaulting down to the net below.
The entire cast now gathers for a grand finale as the music reaches a crescendo that brings us to our feet in a standing ovation, knowing with certainty that we will make this pilgrimage once again next year.
Music runs through the Airjazz show like a constant heartbeat. The tunes range from classical to Europop to bluegrass to modern jazz, but it's there in every piece, providing a context for the three players and the things they manipulate.
Jon Held, Kezia Tenenbaum and Peter Davison begin their hour-long performance with synchronized devil sticking. The click and clack their sticks in harmony with each other and to the precise beat of the music that backs them up. They move all around the stage and each other, taking quick solo spots to highlight a trick, then moving as a whole ensemble. The routine includes double pirouettes, single sticking and passing sticks back and forth.
The precision of their movement indicates tremendous experience together.
Before Held and Tenenbaum pick up three cigar boxes each for a "Dueling Boxes" piece, they briefly describe themselves as "jugglers, mimes, dancers, acrobats and clowns - about as complete an entertainment package as you can fit in human form.
You might feel ill at ease describing them as "jugglers" because they do so much more than that word indicates. But every routine they do depends on object manipulation.
Davison comes out next for his solo performance of the show, performing a suave three and five ball routine that marks his absolute mastery of the prop. He turns his back to the audience and juggles three behind his back in full view, and does constant five ball shoulder throws and a five ball shower.
Held takes a turn alone later with a diabolo, which he plays along with an Irish jig. As the music gets more frenzied he picks up the pace, and ends doing two.
Tenenbaum has her moment alone with a club swinging piece to slow Latin American music.
"Ball Game," which they describe as a "minimalist juggling piece" follows Davison's ball juggling. Everyone carries one large softball onto the stage, and performs a choreographed dance to a piano suite. When they each pick up a second ball, they begin handing them off and exchanging them in myriad intricate patterns.
One of the most exciting pieces is "Pole People," which revolves around manipulation of eight-foot aluminum poles. Each person begins with one, twisting and swinging them all over the stage. As they pick up two, they begin handing them off to each other and moving around them. They pick up three next, and begin placing them on end on the stage, moving their hands from one to another to keep them balanced in a new version of the old plate spinning on sticks routine. The audience really gets excited, however, when they begin walking their three poles each across stage and even turning them over from end to end as they are moved.
The most cerebral piece is undoubtedly "Takeoff," which interprets life on the road through manipulation of a suitcase and huge post cards of foreign destinations. Dressed appropriately in long travel coats and hats, they plod their cases slowly through lines, then fly across stage with their big suitcases. A Europop tune gives an appropriate background to the somewhat stressful feel of the piece.
Their finale piece is the first they made together, a club passing routine set to clarinet jazz. It includes a lot of movement and standard three person, nine club passing.