Cirque du Soleil–JOYÀ Entertainment

See  Part 1 before continuing…

With our table cleared, and the house lights dimmed, the performance was about to begin. We were reminded by the maitre d’ to take as many pictures as we wanted, provided no flash photography was used.

Drawing from Mexican folklore and fantasy, the storyline is set in an alchemist’s library/laboratory–complete with rigging and a trap door–where we are introduced to a loyal menagerie of characters,

animal people1 (2)

beholden to a mischievous girl, and her scatterbrained, but well-meaning grandfather,

Cirque leads

who for the next 80-minutes embark on a quixotic quest through space and time to rescue Grandpa’s Book of Life, and in the process gain an understanding and greater appreciation of the world’s wonders and secrets of life.

Throughout their journey (part bilingual theater, and part circus), the duo encounters:    a skip rope team…

jump rope

a Risley acrobatic duo,


a silk curtain dancer…

curtain split1

curtain split

an audience participant…

audience member

dueling pirates…

pirate ship

a juggler…

juggler

a hand-balancer/contortionist…

contortionist

pageant and puppetry…

fish puppet

puppets

strap aerielists…

rings couple (2)

and a trampoline wall before the finale…


The show, now in its 6th season was sassy, classy and fun.

As expected, the performers’ imaginative costumes were cut from the same creative cloth that distinguishes Cirque’s originality.

pets

And the acrobats’ anthems appropriately delivered the romance and drama that supported their feats of daring-do.

With the last bow was taken, and the house lights turned up, our family agreed that this was an evening well spent,

jungle

deep within the repurposed Yucatán jungle.

 

Cirque du Soleil–JOYÀ Eatertainment

Cirque du Soleil is seemingly ubiquitous–with a dozen touring companies scouring the continents, and 7 different resident shows selling out across the Las Vegas strip, making this entertainment company the most prolific circus producer on the planet.

But JOYÀ is different, and I couldn’t wait to share the experience with my family.

family portrait

Staged in a custom-built, butterfly-inspired structure surrounded by a cenote within the Riviera Maya jungle,

theater1

the 600-seat theater features a thrust stage anchored by perimeter table service, and  tiered seating beyond the waiters’ service stations.

theater

For the epicure, this production offers a dinner component one-hour before showtime that relies on gastronomic smoke and mirrors to draw the guest deeper into the Mexican experience.

According to Mexican Top Chef Alexis Bostelmann, “Each element of this magnificent show served as my inspiration, where imaginative curiosity is met with unexpected discovery,” said Bostelmann.

The adventure began with an edible menu, 

edible menu

followed by a polished slab of wood featuring a salad of edible flowers and Iberian ham, served with a lobster taco, a sweet potato, and fresh ceviche seasoned with coconut, mint and passion fruit.

appetizer platter

I said “yes” to the protein option to garnish my salad: locally-sourced chinicuiles–a salty worm that feeds off maguey roots, and is often found swimming at the bottom of a mezcal bottle. A true Mexican delicacy!

salad with worm garnish

Our featured beverage, in addition to a chilled bottle of Mecier Brut Champagne was  Dragon Breath–a signature tequila concoction that was smokin’ and refreshing!

dry ice cocktail

We noshed on a basket of bread bark,

bread basket (2)

and broccoli boughs while we waited for the second course.

bread treat (2)

My entree arrived under a meteor shell. I opted for braised short ribs nestled beside a dugout dinosaur bone of grilled veggies, and accompanied by a geode-styled crock filled with ginger, coconut and sweet potato mash. 

short ribs

Leah received a treasure chest of jewels…

treasure

accented by a fillet of salmon resting on a poblano-mint puree, elevated by a tower of grilled vegetables, and an oyster-sized seaweed salad topped with a coconut milk pearl.

salmon entree

All the while, our remaining senses were treated to traditional Latin music performed with a jazzy twist.

music interlude

After the second course was cleared, we were presented with a novel idea–

book of pastries

–a quartet of desserts plated within the pages of the Periodic Table of Pastries.

dessert box

Yum!

“My goal was to present a menu rooted in historical meaning that parallels the show’s beloved storyline so that once the performance begins, guests will connect all the details for a completely immersive theatrical experience,” Bostelmann added.

If dinner set the scene, then the show would bear more earthly delights. Noah, Nathan, Leah and I waited for the lights to dim…

lanterns

and let Cirque du Soleil transport us to a magical place, where gravity is optional.

Continue to Part 2

The Greatest Show on Earth

For anyone who ever wanted to run away and join the circus, ground zero is located in Sarasota, FL, where a legacy built by John and Mable Ringling continues to simmer in a culturally rich pot that still stirs the imagination.

It’s hard to believe that Sarasota, once a sleepy fishing village on the Gulf Coast of Florida at the turn of the 20th century, has become a shining example of shimmering glass towers and manicured mansions on the bay,

bay view.jpg

and a cultural capital of fine and performing arts in America–

Van Wezel

born from a prophecy envisioned by circus impresario John Ringling, and fueled by The Greatest Show on Earth.

train poster

However, after 146 years of touring across America, the curtain has come down on the entertainment extravaganza, and the big top has folded forever after its last show on May 21, 2017.

According to Kenneth Feld, chairman and CEO of Feld Entertainment, the circus could no longer compete as the spectacle that had endured for so many generations. Plagued by prolonged battles with animal rights activists, rising operating costs, and children more enamored by super heroes, the circus had lost its lustre and cultural relevance.

Fortunately, for those of us who still remember the taste of roasted peanuts, and the sweet smell of cotton candy wafting in the air, a visit to Ringling Museum of the American Circus…

building entrance (3)

provides a venue to a bygone era, when the thrill of the circus parade would send spirits soaring, and unrelenting children reigning havoc on parents, until they were promised tickets to the latest and greatest show.

fun mirror

Established in 1948 by Chick Austin, Jr., Ringling’s first museum director, the circus museum displays Ringling memorabilia from the time the Ringling brothers purchased the Barnum and Bailey act in 1907.

The collection features beautifully carved circus wagons,

music wagon1
Harp and Jesters Calliope Wagon, circa 1915
music wagon
Griffin and Venetian Bandwagon, circa 1907
lion wagon
Hagenbeck and Wallace Lion Tableau Bandwagon, circa 1904-1905
elephant wagon
Elephant Bandwagon, circa 1906
music wagon2
Italian Percussion Bandwagon, circa 1915

props…

cannon truck1a
Zacchini Repeating Firing Cannon, circa 1960s

posters…

sideshow stage

and costumes…

Emmett Kelly's Weary Willie clown shoes (3)
Emmett Kelley’s Weary Willie clown shoes, circa 1942

donated from local circus families, who eventually resettled in Sarasota after John Ringling moved the Circus Winter Quarters to town in 1927.

Winter Quarters (3)

Winter Quarters1 (2)

The museum features elaborate animal carvings, past…

tiger sculpture

and present, with active carving studios onsite for miniatures…

workbench

and life-size creations.

carving studio

But the shining star of the show has to be the newly refurbished train carriage, named Wisconsin

John Ringling's Pullman business office

a customized rolling office and home of grand design and furnishings built by Pullman,

Pullman banner

which allowed John and Mable Ringling to criss-cross the nation, always in search of fresh talent and new acts for the big top.

The Ringling Museum of the American Circus features a rich folklore that honors the performers of a Golden Age, and celebrates an iconic American institution once hailed as the Mecca of family entertainment.

 

 

 

The museum is also a testament to five hard-working brothers born in Iowa to German immigrants, who rose from the ranks of penny actors to build a circus empire that lasted long after John Ringling’s death in 1936 until its recent demise…

and sadly, has become just another blip in the timeline of American amusement.