There’s some good fun to be had at Bacio Rosso, the cabaret circus that’s playing in a tent in Queen Elizabeth Park. But you have to pay for your fun in more ways than one.
I’ve never been to an event like Bacio Rosso before. It’s more intimate than some circus-style entertainments, there’s a meal included with your ticket, and patrons are allowed to drink at their tables.
The line-up includes some excellent performers. My favourite is a guy named Jimmy Gonzalez who juggles clay. He starts with one big ball of it, then splits it into ever smaller and more numerous clay balls. The soft, slightly slimy texture of the clay makes this act extraordinarily sensual. Gonzalez gets filthy as he juggles his mud balls and catches them on various parts of his body—and he takes his shirt off, which is a bonus. Gonzalez is extremely skilled—as much of a dancer as a juggler—and there’s something about that combination of earthiness and precision, not to mention the originality of the act, that’s transporting.
I also particularly enjoyed Kevin Kent. There’s a loose, deliberately ridiculous storyline that runs through Bacio Rosso and, in that narrative, Kent plays the Colonel, the long-lost brother of the cabaret’s chanteuse Lady Rizo. The Colonel has been hunting down magic butterfly dust, but you don’t need to know anything more about that. What you do need to know is that Kent brings vivacious charm to the evening. Working with audience volunteers, he is a playful and generous improviser. In full drag late in the evening the night I attended, he was toying with a butch guy from the crowd. “Take your hands out of your pockets,” Kent, the glittering giant said in his sweet little bimbo voice. “You’re making me nervous.”
Generally speaking the acts get better as the program progresses. A guy called Dima Shine does a hand-balancing act that’s a dizzying combination of muscularity, flexibility, and grace.
When it comes to consistency and overall conception, however Bacio Rosso starts to fray. Some of the acts are so-so. I’m thinking of Colin Heath’s clowning, for instance, and Erika Nguyen’s aerial work on a hoop. These contributions are okay, but they don’t come anywhere near the standard established by Cirque du Soleil. (That’s a high benchmark, I know, but it is part of the marketplace.)
And, in terms of overall vision, on a smaller scale, it’s worthwhile comparing Baccio Rosso to Cuisine and Confessions, which a company called The 7 Digits brought to Vancouver a couple of years ago. Cuisine and Confessions is heart-stopping in terms of skill—and moving in the way that it integrates the performers’ personal narratives. Then there’s the Australian company Gravity & Other Myths, which just brought Backbone to the Playhouse last month and presented A Simple Space in 2015. Both pieces showcase the first-rate skills of company members—within the context of strikingly original conception and design.
In comparison, Bacio Rosso is pedestrian. I have no doubt that some people will love the beveled mirrors and oak finishings of the tent and the red-and-black costumes worn by the wait staff, but to me the overall design has the ersatz feeling of a nostalgic ice cream parlour.
The food is only okay. And the emphasis on the consumption of alcohol brings with it—surprise!—drunks. To her credit, Lady Rizo (Amelia Zirin-Brown), who can belt it out with the best of ‘em and who keeps the evening moving with her roguish humour, managed to work “Shut the fuck up already” into the lyrics of one of her songs.
And get this: tickets at the table where I was sitting for Bacio Rosso cost $239 each. I got comps, but for folks who have to fork out the dough, that’s a ridiculous toll.
BACIO ROSSO In the Magic Cristal tent in Queen Elizabeth Park on Friday, November 9. Continues until December 31.Tickets.
NEVER MISS A REVIEW: To get links to my reviews plus the best of international theatre coverage, sign up for FRESH SHEET, my free weekly e-newsletter.
And, if you want to keep independent criticism alive in Vancouver, check out my Patreon page. Newspapers are dying and arts journalism is often the first thing they cut. Fight back!