Derring-do & critters too

Times Staff Writer

Yes, the ubiquitous Cirque du Soleil does dwarf its cousinly competition, Cirque Productions. But the latter, a brand of proscenium circus theatrics created by Neil Goldberg ("Cirque Ingenieux"), has its own wow factor.

Goldberg's newest touring show, "Cirque Dreams Jungle Fantasy," a whiz-bang, family-friendly spectacle -- at Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza through Sunday, then moving to Long Beach -- is no exception. Its jungle-delirium setting and Technicolor-gone-wild color scheme (even more vivid in black light) provide the framework for jaw-dropping feats of strength, balance and dexterity.

Crafted with international flair -- the performers hail from the U.S., Canada, Mongolia, Russia, Ukraine and Bulgaria -- the day-to-night action is guided by Jungleboy (Marcello Balestracci, a sly Harpo Marx-ish clown and acrobat) and two music-makers: Soul Tree (bare-chested violinist Jared Burnett) and Lady Bug, played by Julia Langley, whose verve and full-throated vocals help mitigate the sins of Jill Diane Winters' rather pedestrian pop score.

Comedy, a gentle creepiness and general ambience are supplied by a host of bugs, amphibians, spiders, mammals and scene-stealing emus (Glenn Rogers and Zach Carroll). Puppets include elephants and daisy-spotted giraffes.

Some critter costumes, credited to the company, weirdly obscure evidence of the human shape within, their otherworldly effect height- ened by Jon Craine's fanciful mushroom-and-tree-roots set design and Kate Johnston's pulsating, multi-patterned lights.

If the bells and whistles and Langley's action-keyed songs come with a hint of corn, it doesn't mar the pleasure of the many visual delights and the awe-inspiring spectacle of human beings doing the seemingly impossible.

All the trappings complement the high-level aerialists, acrobats, jugglers, balancers and more, performing in spotlight vignettes with mood-matching choreography by Tara Jeanne Vallee.

They include "Contorting Lizards" (a lovely, impossibly lithe quartet), a gravity defying "Snakeroller" (Vladimir Dovgan), acrobatic "Jungle Kings" musclemen and a "Junglehairialist" (Stefka Iordanova, who performs while -- ouch -- suspended by her hair).

Loose-limbed juggler Nazar Skladanyi, a remarkable meld of jump roping and acrobatic tumbling, and "Balancing Giraffes" Anatoliy Yeniy and Dovgan -- who seem poised to break a leg or worse in a balancing routine that's anything but routine -- are other memorable, how-do-they-do-it highlights.



'Cirque Dreams Jungle Fantasy'

Where: Countrywide Performing Arts Center, Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza, 2100 Thousand Oaks Blvd., Thousand Oaks

When: 8 p.m. today, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 2 and 7 p.m. Sunday

Ends: Sunday

Price: $40 to $49

Contact: (805) 583-8700,

Running time: 2 hours



Where: Terrace Theatre, Long Beach Performing Arts Center, 300 E. Ocean Ave., Long Beach

When: 8 p.m. March 7, 2 and 8 p.m. March 8

Price: $27.50 to $47.50

Contact: (213) 480-3232,

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