UniverSoul Rocks Roxbury
The UniverSoul Circus brought its unique blend of black culture and classic vaudeville under a big tent in Roxbury, attracting several thousand attendees with their high-wire acts and zany antics.
For the opening two shows, UniverSoul teamed with Boston’s Community Relief Foundation to donate 100 percent of its net proceeds to Haiti relief efforts to help rebuild the country in the wake of January’s devastating earthquake.
The venue on the Northeastern campus kept the entire audience close to the ring, allowing interaction with the performers. Ringmaster Tony Tone, an actor and comedian who was recently featured in the Tyler Perry movie “I Can Do Bad All By Myself,” emceed the event with a quick wit and a dose of personality.
Tone’s comedic talent shined during each show when he gathered five men and five women, all over the age of 25, to participate in a Soul Train-styled dance-off.
On opening night, he almost lost his participants when he threatened to put a video of their dancing on YouTube, but the seemingly shyest audience members broke out the craziest moves.
After the challenge, Tone praised the brave audience members — sort of. “And for participating you have all won,” he laughed, “a free trip back to your seat!”
The circus acts spanned the globe, from the amusing choreographed poodles in “Pampered Pooches” of Russia to the graceful and stunning acrobats in “Chinese Silks” of China.
Paly Odimboleko (aka “Velocity”), of Belgium via the Congo, gave a display of basketball tricks with his partner Michael, of the Netherlands, in their “Double Dribble” act. “No matter where you’re from, the thing that relates us is the soul we got inside,” said Odimboleko, “It’s all about love.”
The love between the performers and between them and the crowd was apparent in each of the shows, and the “High Wire Daredevils” were an excellent example of this synergy. “Sometimes the people in the audience, they’ll be like, ‘Wow, this is amazing, how do they do it?’” said Cyriaque, of Gabon, Central Africa, on he and his three partners’ “life or death” high wire act.
The suspenseful performance included a spectacular display of three of the men balancing on each other’s shoulders while walking across the tightrope. “You got to have a lot of heart to do something like that,” Cyriaque said, but only before adding, “You know, I enjoy myself in there, too!”
Audience members represented Boston well, keeping the show at a high energy level. “I’ve never heard a crowd so live,” said Dominique Jenkins, a hip hop dancer from Queens, N.Y. Johan Torres, of the Dominican Republic and another member of the “High Wire Daredevils,” had never been to the United States before this year’s UniverSoul tour, and Boston left a lasting impression on him, largely due to the “beautiful, wonderful” crowd.
“Sometimes you might feel tired or don’t really want to perform,” said Odimboleko of circus life, “but when you see the crowd responding like that — even before you go on stage — it brings you an energy from inside.”
With a great turnout, the UniverSoul Circus’ stop in Boston was an apparent success — and a fun time for both children and adults. Roxbury resident Lashae and her daughter A.A. enjoyed the show, and Lashae said she liked it even better than the famous Big Apple Circus.
Fellow Roxbury resident Walter noted that the UniverSoul Circus’s strong point was that it spoke to his children’s generation and interests.
Walter’s young daughter Nia, rather than being afraid of the tiger in the “CATS” act, liked them most of all. “I liked how even though they tried to fight back, the trainer still faced them!”