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The circus dazzles at Roy Wilkins Park

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That all changed when the UniverSoul Circus rolled into nearby Roy Wilkins Park last week for a 2-1/2-week engagement."It's my first time ever at any circus," said John, who sat in the front row with his 5-year-old grandson on the opening day of the show, which will be in the neighborhood until May 8. "I'm like a big kid, too."The Addisleigh Park family duo soon felt the bass lines of the music pulsate through their bodies, as did the other fans packed into the 2,300 bleacher seats. A modern revival of the black-owned circus, UniverSoul has sought to turn the "pomp and circumstance" of traditional performances into "hip-hop under the Big Top," according to its Web site, with break dancing, vaudeville comedy and booty-shaking tunes. And what started as an unique outlet for black performers has since come to include cast members from around the globe.The evening show on April 27, attended by John and his grandson, kicked off with some heat. The Caribbean Flava Stiltwalkers and Limbo Mamas from the country of Trinidad and Tobago showed just how low they could go, with the troop's star staggering under a flaming stick a foot off the ground. Next, an Argentine balanced a tall metal pole in the air as his sister spun by her hair from its top. Then a female tightrope walker from Gabon in West Africa made a traverse on a pair of stilts."Everybody say you go, girl," instructed ringmaster Shuckey Duckey, i.e. Cecil Armstrong, who has also appeared on Russell Simmon's "Def Comedy Jam" and Black Entertainment Television's "Comic View." "You go, girl," the audience responded. After the horses, but before the elephants, a South African contortionist made her body bend in ways that had the crowd shaking their heads."Lord have mercy," Duckey said. "Can you believe that, Queens?"Before the elephants closed out the show, the Shanghai trapeze artists further stunned the audience by hurling the children in their troop through the air to one another as they swung on the bars.Their performance convinced Julian Smith, 21, that he was not ready to join the circus."When I saw those two guys dancing, I thought maybe I could do that," he said of an earlier act. Like many in the audience, he hailed from Addisleigh Park. "This is the first circus that came into southeast Queens so a lot of children can see it," Dr. Dorothy Ogundu, a resident of Holliswood and a member of the Southern Queens Park Association, said during intermission.The association runs Roy Wilkins Park and brought UniverSoul to the grounds for its first run there last year."There was a full court press," said Southern Queens Park President William Nelson, noting that the circus organizers initially thought about going to the Rockaways before southeast Queens leaders intervened. Nelson, who served as the guest ringmaster April 27, said the exposure has helped both the park and UniverSoul, an assessment shared by the company."They've embraced us a great deal," spokesman Hank Ernest said.When asked if he enjoyed the show, John, the grandfather, replied he did."Absolutely," he said. "I'll be back again."Nelson assured the crowd during the show that they would have plenty of chances."We believe it's going to be a fixture for years to come," he said.Reach reporter Michael Morton by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.

Posted 7:04 pm, October 10, 2011
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