A year ago I saw a beautiful circus arts show called In The Tree of Smoke at a newly-reopened historic Chinatown venue called Great Star Theatre. It was a fabulous show and I’ve had my eye on the venue and the performers ever since. There are several shows this season that look like they’ll be good, starting with Raised by Wolves, which I saw last night and have to recommend as one of the best live performances I’ve seen in a long time.
I knew that the circus arts would be great. I’m endlessly fascinated by contortionists and aerial dancers and it doesn’t take much to impress me in this area because I just find it all so enchanting. I’m familiar with many of the people who performed because I’ve seen them in several other things over the years.
And indeed, they did not disappoint. Fleeky Flanco crawled like an exquisite creature through tiny spaces and exhibited strength in hand balancing. Inka Siefker lent an air of burlesque to her unique arrow-shooting dance performance. Micah Walters sent his shoulder blades flying so far out of his back that he looked broken in that terrific modelesque manner.
There was clowning and acrobatics but my favorite of all was a mesmerizing water performance. I’m pretty sure the dancer was Rachel Strickland in that one. She swam inside of a bowl of water (reminding me of my favorite part of Zumanity) beneath red fabric that clung to her body as she was lifted into the air for portions of her act. Stunning. The whole she was sexy and funny.
But that wasn’t what really clinched it for me as a top performance among all of those I’ve ever seen. It was amazing, it was special, it was what I expected and I was as charmed by it all as I could have hoped. But it was the addition of spoken word by Jamie deWolf that took it over the top into amazing art.
Jamie shared his life story and thoughts about the world through spoken word pieces preceding every performance. Each of his pieces grew deeper into his own story, beginning with his first childhood crush, including the difficulties of life with some troubles and culminating in a piece that celebrates surviving suicidal impulse. (My favorite line in that final piece was: “Attempting suicide is the only failure that is of itself a victory.”)
His words were poetic, rhythmic, painting intense imagery in the air with breath and pounding directly into the heart of the audience in the way that only authentic slam-style poetry can do. I have seen a lot of open mic performances and poetry slams and only a few pieces have ever touched me like each one that he shared. My heart beat faster and my emotions came to a peak inside of me. I wasn’t thinking my own thoughts, which says a lot because I’m rarely so ever present in the moment.
There was one heartbreaking piece he shared about living in a bad area with his newborn daughter and always seeing a little seven year old girl in the hallway … never doing more for her, never learning her story, never even knowing her name until she went missing, abducted and plastered all over the news. It’s the story of Xiana Fairchild, abducted and murdered by Curtis Dean Anderson, a story I had actually just heard because it was the series premiere story on the new Lifetime show “They Took Our Child: We Got Her Back”. (Obviously, that’s not her family’s story, but the story of a second girl who was taken after Xiana.) The powerful poetry broke my heart and surely made us all think about the people we don’t pay enough attention to every day, about the horrors of the world and the personal mistakes we’ve made along the way even though we might not have been able to do it any differently.
Each spoken word piece, strong in its own right, was followed by a circus act that directly spoke to the theme of the poetry. The combination was unbeatable. I’d definitely recommend the show to anyone in San Francisco this month.
Oh and a shoutout to set designer Michael Murnane. My beaux commented several times on the magnificence of the set art.