I remember the first time I saw full-on street performers plying their trade. I’m talking about jugglers, unicyclists, closeup magicians and the like — not just some shaggy hippie sitting Indian-style and strumming listlessly on a poorly tuned guitar. It was summer in Harvard Square, and I was enthralled by the audaciousness and courage of these Mass. Ave. miracle workers. From that day on, I’ve had a soft spot in my heart for the buskers and mummers of the world.
You can imagine my joy, then, when I moved to Boulder and found that Pearl Street had its own set of street performers folding themselves into little boxes, flicking playing cards onto the roofs of nearby buildings and wrestling enormous grizzly bears to the death. OK, so I’ve never actually seen a bear wrestler on the walking mall, but juggling, acrobatics and the rest of the flashier street arts abound.
Up In The Air is what happens when a talented street performer is given the green light to move inside and take center stage in an actual theater. Peter Davison, a one-time street performer, National Juggling Champion and Co-Artistic Director of Boulder Ballet, took the opportunity and created a piece of street theater styled for the stage. Though he utters not a syllable during the course of the show, Davison speaks volumes with his movements, expressions and choices of musical accompaniment.
For anyone who has never experienced a truly talented “juggler, dancer, actor and poet,” as Davison describes himself, doing the things such a person does best, Up In The Air is a must-see. Again and again, audience members gasped in awe of Davison’s balancing acts and juggling prowess. To be sure, attendance skewed young, with many children and tweens in the seats, but their amazement was echoed by the oohs and ahhs of the adults on numerous occasions.
After a Chaplin-esque entrance and opening segment, complete with cane and signature penguin steps, Davison exhibits excellent timing as he syncs his routines to segments of classical music from the likes of Chopin, Schumann and Strauss. Each piece of music, even if it only plays for a minute or two, sculpts the emotion of the moment. It is the music as much as Davison’s movements to it that define the energy of the show.
From time to time, the music is interrupted by eerie, unintelligible whispering that has Davison craning his neck to find its source. This sound effect reminded me of the unseen Others on the first few
seasons of Lost, and from the way Davison reacted to it, I expected it to figure in thematically at some point. Alas, whether it was only ever meant as a quasi-dramatic device or because Davison chose not to inject a darker note into what is an overwhelmingly upbeat and airy show, nothing became of the vaguely sinister susurrations.
Davison’s background in dance is apparent throughout Up In The Air. Even when he’s not engaged in active dancing, he moves balletically, with confidence and grace. He uses a table and chair more effectively than many actors use an entire prop department. A plain, black stocking cap and the juxtaposition of Nirvana and “Carmina Burana” are all he needs to bring two very different characters to life, then ping-pong between them. He even gets good mileage out of the many permutations one can make of a newspaper, an orange and an empty wine bottle sitting atop a table.
When Davison and Up In The Air are at their best, however, is when Davison is juggling. It is no wonder that he was National Juggling Champion. With the ease that only comes from years and years of training, Davison pulls off juggling legerdemain that is breathtaking. I’ve seen a lot of jugglers in my time, and Davison brought forth a few tricks that I don’t believe I’ve ever encountered before. If I had one gripe with Up In The Air it would be that it should go heavier on the juggling, even if it had to be at the expense of some of the other bits.
As well crafted as Up In The Air is, I will caution those of you who have more familiarity with street performance that — outside of one or two of the more amazing juggling feats — this show will likely not hold any surprises for you. It is a professional, polished production, but notably innovative it is not.