Sunday, August 19, 2001

UniverSoul Circus cranks up hip-hop under the big top

By Erin Kosnac
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The circus is coming to town. But not just any circus. The UniverSoul Circus will set up its big top for a five-day stop in Cincinnati during its “UnExpected Soul 2001” tour. The circus, which is the only African-American owned and operated one in the world, features acts from around the globe, performing to the sounds of hip-hop, gospel, jazz and blues.

        In addition to traditional circus favorites such as elephants, aerialists and clowns, the show provides something unique for audiences.

  What: UniverSoul Circus “UnExpected Soul 2001”
  Where: Swifton Commons, 7030 Reading Road, Bond Hill
  When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday; 10:30 a.m., 7:30 p.m. Thursday; 10:30 a.m., 7:30 p.m. Friday; noon, 4:30 p.m., 8 p.m. Saturday; noon, 3:30 p.m., 6:30 p.m. next Sunday
  Tickets: $10-$25, available through Ticketmaster, 562-4949
  Information: (800) 316-7439,
        “You go to any other circus in America, and you count how many black people you see performing,” says Margo Porter, who performs as an aerialist, dances and works with animals.

        “You come to this circus, and you count how many white people you see. It just gives people the knowledge that people of color can do all sorts of things.”

        This is something Robert Dunn, who performs as the clown Onionhead, thinks is important for children to see.

        “I didn't have any knowledge of black performers doing these things so children probably don't have any knowledge of black performers doing these things,” he says.

        “It's so important for all children to see what black folks are doing because so many people stereotype blacks. We want children to see that they can do this, that they can be a part of anything they put their minds to.”

        Through his portrayals of characters in the urban community, Mr. Dunn hopes to give his audience more than just entertainment.

        “I want them to walk away happy,” he says. “I want them to walk away fulfilled. I want them to walk away having seen the love we have for what we do.”

        Seeing the audience's reaction is his reward.

        “When I see the smile on a child or on an older person who has maybe never seen a black clown, this is where my blessing comes from,” Mr. Dunn says.

        Ms. Porter likes to watch the audience even when they are not watching her and finds it easy to gauge if they are enjoying the performance.

        “It's a good feeling when you look at an audience and they're screaming and smiling and enjoying it,” Ms. Porter says. “Sometimes it's nice to just sit backstage and watch the audience. With a black audience, if they like it, you know they like it. And if they don't like it, you know they don't.”

        But it's not as easy to describe what people will see when they step right up to the UniverSoul big top.

        “It's kind of hard to tell anybody what to expect,” Ms. Porter says. “You've just got to see it.”


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