UniverSoul Circus: Hip Hop Under the Big Top

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Underbelly Circus Hub
August 12-25 (17:00)


UniverSoul Circus is American’s largest circus, now in its 25th year of operation. But it’s more than just an American act, and it’s much more than hip hop. It’s more than just a circus too, with energetic music, dazzling theatrics, dance, comedy and mind-blowing spectacle. The show was dreamed up by top US promoter Cedric Walker, who wanted to use his music promotion background to create a lively, interactive family show that celebrated urban African American communities. UniverSoul Circus has been seen by 20 million people, features performers from right across the globe and is making its European premiere right here at the Edinburgh Fringe.

Ringmaster Lucky Malatsi from South Africa warmed up the audience immediately; humorously pitting the sides of the ring against each other to follow along with his whistles and claps. A beautiful ballerina princess emerged in a sparkling tutu, as if out of a child’s dream. Fresh the Clownsss, a quartet from Detroit with equal doses of silliness and swag, burst on the stage. An instant hit with the kids, there are truly the fresh face of clowning. These hip-hopping clowns with slick choreography and contemporary fashions took the internet by storm with their viral dance video to ‘Juju on the Beat’ back in 2016. Stillness descended once more as we were treated to dance duet Duo Amour from Cuba, to tell of a love story through an elegant, touching and mesmerising dance both on the ground and high up in the air. We shouldn’t be surprised. Cuba consistently nurtures some of the most skilled and refined dancers in the world.

Caribbean Dynasty blew us away in my favourite part of the show, proudly sporting their home country flags of Trinidad and Tobago. In a blast of the best, performers on huge stilts, known in the Caribbean as ‘Moko Jumbies’, towered above us as they danced to the fast beats of soca music. They gave us a spectacular performance; entertaining the crowd while retaining the power and meaning of authentic Caribbean culture.  Then they blended traditional characters from Carnival masquerade into an old-school limbo performance and hyped it to the max. How hot, low and dangerous can you go? By the time the four young contortionists came out to a remix of Man’s Not Hot, it was almost too much to witness in one sitting. The ‘Bone Breakers’ hail from Conakry in Guinea in West Africa and can bend and twist their bodies in eye-watering ways. They then casually get up and saunter off with a smile, as if it’s something we can all do every day.

Two acrobatic groups have you biting your nails on the edge of your seat. We were asked to stay silent to aid the concentration needed for more and more dangerous and skilful acts by The Willie Family High Wire, a six-person troupe from Colombia, South America. Knowing what balance it takes just to walk along a thin wire, to see them perform unbelievable acrobatic stunts at 18 feet up in the air really is breathtaking. An equally impressive Mongolian troupe in leather outfits and boots also know how to take it to the top. Expect much tumbling from a giant teeterboard and climbing higher and higher in a dazzling display of trust and teamwork.

There’s an unbelievable bundle of fun packed into this show for adults and children of all ages. In between sets, the clowns had the kids smiling, lip synching along, leaping up into an impromptu ‘flossing’ dance off, and bouncing giant balls around, so there wasn’t a single moment to get bored. I left that tent stunned, in awe, and full of joy. As the kids say, it literally gave me life. I feel genuinely honoured to have had the opportunity to catch this show in the UK, and I can’t stop raving about it to everyone I know. We’ve been blessed with UniverSoul Circus’ European premiere. Every seat at every performance should be filled. You’d be stupid not to go. Beg, borrow and steal if you have to. Have I convinced you yet?

Lisa Williams

five-stars

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