Nicola and I saw *Circus: Wandering City* at BAM on 11/14/18. It's a show by the string quartet ETHEL about the circus, directed by Grant McDonald. The members of ETHEL are Kip Jones and Corin Lee on violin, Ralph Farris on viola, and Dorothy Lawson on cello. They also composed the music (which was uneven, often charming and/or impressive but not always engrossing). They also often sang at the same time as they played, which was cute. Cute because they sang like string players.
The piece was inspired by the circus and incorporated archival photographs, bits of film, and most delightful of all, interviews with retired circus performers. One high point of the piece was a sequence in which we watched a video of a man talking about the card sharks who did their work in the side tent. The music was written to echo the rhythms of his monologue, it was hilarious.
Another high point was a sequence that started with the cellist playing by herself. I should mention quickly that her cello was attached to her body with some kind of harness. I'd never seen anything like it, but clearly it gave her more mobility than a cellist typically has. Anyway, she was playing a solo and one of the violinists came on and started playing a counterpoint line on another string on her cello, pizzicato. Then the violist came on and played a third string with his bow. Then, naturally, the other violinist came on and managed the pitches on the fingerboard. All four members of the quartet were playing the cello at the same time. It was beautiful, a tour de force of composition, more than anything.
The performers were entertaining, that seems to be the focus, at least in this show. That's not to take away from their abilities at musicians, clearly they're crackerjack players and they each had a solo moment to shine (Lee's sizzling solo at the end was the standout). I loved the cellist's daffy stage manner the best, but then I suppose she was aided by the electric blue fascinator that was affixed to her head.
[Photo by Max Gordon, courtesy of the BAM Press Office.]