May 31--Tucked under the cozy big top in Grand Center, a story unfolds. It's the story of "The Pawn," a giant game of chess where the "bold moves" the players make come in the form of thrilling and dangerous stunts.
The queen's move? A heart-pumping athletic turn on the high swing. The knight's? Leaping on a galloping horse, of course. And when the red knight threatens, he does it with dancing camels.
But this year's show had another story underlying the magical costumes and death-defying acts. Circus Flora's co-founder and longtime artistic director Ivor David Balding died May 9.
The presence of Balding, whom the New York Times called a "natural impresario," was felt Friday night, in the portraits of him at the entrance, and the tribute to him in the program.
In 2012, Balding passed the baton to Jack Marsh, 29, son of Cecil MacKinnon, Circus Flora's theater director. Audiences know her as the circus' narrator, Yo-Yo, who seemed absolutely perfect in Friday night's performance.
Also missing this year is crowd favorite Nino the Clown. But no worries: Adam Kuchler, as the title character, has impressive juggling (and box-stacking) skills and a charming personality that easily won the crowd over.
Many favorites did return this year -- the spectacular Flying Wallendas on the high wire; the dazzling Flying Cortes on the trapeze; and the acrobatic St. Louis Arches, whose choreography this year was superb.
Kids loved some of the new acts, including Andriy Bilobrov and his adorable Jack Russell terriers and Ian Garden Jr. and his dancing camels, one of which had floppy lips that had everyone laughing.
Bareback rider S. Caleb Carinci-Asch was seen in the first and second halves of the show. In the second he did a back flip from one galloping horse to land on the back of another. He bobbled a bit, but the feat was no less impressive. Another new act was acrobatic jugglers Duo Kate & Pasi. Their sexy, funny routine was a pleasant surprise.
Circus Flora partnered with the World Chess Hall of Fame and the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis in bringing the show to life. It's probably one of the best, and most natural, plots Circus Flora has used in its 28 years.
CIRCUS FLORA'S 'THE PAWN'
When -- Through June 22; regular show times are 7 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 1 and 7 p.m. Friday-Saturday, and 1 and 5:30 p.m. Sunday (one-hour shows for smaller children at 10 a.m. Wednesday)
Where -- Grand Boulevard and Samuel Shepard Drive, near Powell Symphony Hall
How much -- $10-$48
More info -- 314-534-1111 or MetroTix.com; 314-289-4040 or circusflora.org
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