- Michelle Bates
- How Freddy Kenton plays the mandolin.
Freddy Kenton is an old-school cirque/vaudeville man. Born in the Netherlands, he's spent 60 years playing places like the Moulin Rouge, the Lido, the Blackpool Tower Circus, and Tokyo nightclubs. His last gig, before coming to town for this year's Moisture Festival, had been performing for the Prince of Monaco.
There's something touching about the old-timers that's been lost in the slicking-up of varieté with Cirque du Soleil and its spinoffs. Soleil's performers are some of the best in the world, but they feel remote, more CGI than human, trapped behind a veil of stage fog, overproduction, and a playlist that oscillates between EDM and Enya.
But performers like Kenton and his wife Evelyne—who performed at a Moisture Festival/Teatro ZinZanni mashup on April Fool's Day—seem like human beings, strong in some ways and frail in others, which makes their accomplishments ten times more impressive.
There is a kind of terrifying beauty to old-school vaudeville when it can layer dramatic time over real time. It's different from watching a play where everyone agrees to pretend—when the lights go down on scene one and come up on scene two, we allow ourselves to be convinced, for the sake of dramatic time, that days or months have passed.
But the thrill of vaudeville (when it works) comes from the fact that it isn't make-believe.
- Michelle Bates
- Kenton pops the balloon and the wine glass falls, perfectly balanced, on the blade in his mouth. He does not drink the wine—at least not during the act.
We're watching an act in real time and if something goes wrong—the juggler drops his pins, the joke falls flat, the aerialist (god forbid) falls—it's going to go wrong in the real world. An actor flubbing a line isn't nearly as dangerous, physically or dramatically. A flub just brings us out of the make-believe world of the play and back into the world of reality for a moment. The successes and failures of vaudeville, because they happen in real time and dramatic time simultaneously, feel more real than real—they're hyperreal.
- Johan Persson
- From Peter Brook's The Suit.
Kenny Raskin was another old-schooler at the April Fool's show who'll be at the Moisture Festival, which runs until April 13. He performed his "My Old Friend" act, which you may have seen variations of—a lonely old man sits on a bench, props his trench coat and hat onto a crutch, puts one arm through a sleeve of the coat, which then takes on a life of its own. They get to know each other, they fight a little, they confide in one another. It's a marvelous piece of clowning that has hits that balance between slapstick and pathos. (It was also used by Peter Brook in The Suit—you may recognize it from that press image that was all over the place. And, to be fair, Cirque du Soleil has picked up Raskin to add some grit to its own clowning.)
- John Cornicello
- It's difficult to appreciate what this guy, Domitil Aillot does in a photograph—he shimmies, slithers, and swings his way around a giant pole, suspending himself in mid-air, like his body was a strong as a tiger's but as light as a balloon.
The rest of the April Fool's show gave tastes of Moisture Festival performances to come—retired Pacific Northwest Ballet dancer Ariana Lallone trying out her newfound interest in aerial acts, jugglers and tap dancers (in one lovely bit, a tap dancer and a juggler with balls that sounded like maracas faced off in a freestyle rhythm battle, the slightly diabolical and sardonic humor of host Kevin Joyce.
I hadn't been to the Moisture Festival in many years—was this the last time?—but last Tuesday was a pleasant reminder of why people love it and why it's grown so large over the past decade.
If you want to check out the scene, whether the varieté or the burlesque shows—take a look at the schedule.