May 20, 2003

Circus returns to campus for second year

Hundreds gathered Friday evening to witness The Greatest Show on Campus: Le Vorris and Vox Circus. Located in the quadrangle between the Regenstein Library and Bartlett Commons, the second annual student-produced spectacle featured performances that ranged from the daring of a trapeze artist to the grace of Capoeria to the buffoonery of a pair of clowns.

The madness began slightly before 9 p.m., when dozens of circus performers paraded up 58th Street en route to the circus stage, which consisted of red and blue partitions separated from each other by a white screen. The Regenstein Library, its lights extinguished, was illuminated by several large spotlights, providing the performers with a dramatic backdrop, while the steps of the building acted as a natural amphitheatre, according to event organizers.

Ringmaster "Captain Zorghoff" (a.k.a. third-year in the College and event organizer Shawn Lavoie) kicked off the event with an oratory that meandered from the bizarre to the straightforward and often blended the two. The evening's performers, Lavoie explained, were extraterrestrials, doomed to roam the galaxy to atone for "certain crimes." In the same tone, Lavoie explained that the troupe, which featured 58 members, performed through the generosity of the University of Chicago Fine Arts Council and the cooperation of University Theatre.

Following Lavoie's introductory remarks, two clowns, clothed in red with bodies painted to match, entertained the spectators with silliness that featured physical comedy and the manipulation of a puppet. All the while, stilted performers, attired in outlandish costumes, mingled with the crowd (which event organizers estimated at 450), playfully snatching hats, and calling to the performers.

Throughout the performance, sinister figures dressed in black stalked the perimeter of the stage, affecting a tough, detached demeanor. These were "the fascists," according to event organizers, a group that gruffly herded audience members when performances called for more space, in addition to participating in various parts of the show.

In the torrent of performances that comprised Le Vorris and Vox, circus mainstays like unicyclists, acrobats, jugglers, and clowns shared the main stage with Capoeira performers and break dancers from the crew Stick & Move. The entire spectacle of Le Vorris and Vox was performed to an original score composed by fourth-year in the College Slava Balasanov, who led an eight-piece band through a set which he described as "sort of metally, evil circus music."

Judging from crowd's reaction one of the night's highlights was the spine-tingling performance of Shreeyash Palshiker, magician and Ph.D. student in South Asian Languages and Civilizations program. Palshiker took the stage, along with Lavoie, fourth-year in the College Ronni Kuller, and a formidable bed of nails, upon which he lay supine, amidst the gasps of the audience. Kuller then stood upon Palshiker's chest for several excruciating seconds. Once she had stepped down, Lavoie further demonstrated Palshiker's prowess, by using a sledge hammer to smash a cinder block on the man's chest.

Legal complications involved in such acts of daring almost prevented the performance of Le Vorris and Vox, according to Forest Greg, a third-year in the College and an event organizer.

Due to a break-down in communication with University administrators, Greg was forced to abandon his role as fire-eater when he was confronted by officials concerned over liability issues which cast the entire performance into doubt a mere four days before it was scheduled to take place.

Looking back on the incident, Greg remembered thinking: "Under no circumstances should I be in a place with this many suits." Luckily, with the exception of fire-eating, which was dropped from the performance, legal waivers were enough to appease administrators and allow the show to go on.

Overall, Le Vorris and Vox's organizers expressed satisfaction with their event, despite the fact that it was "massively over budget." "I thought it went well," said Balasanov.