OXON HILL – In 1994, Cedric Walker, an African-American entrepreneur, realized a long-time dream when his UniverSoul Circus debuted in Atlanta’s old Fulton County Stadium, kicking off in the parking lot with a 10-day run.
Walker, a Baltimore native and concert and theater performer, had learned showmanship by helping to sell fruits and vegetables off an arabber’s cart. He had envisioned a circus with a large percentage of people of color performing that would celebrate African American culture and fill a void in Black entertainment. The initial years would have its growing pains, but Walker was determined to prevail.
Today, 25 years later, UniverSoul Circus has grown to become the most successful urban family entertainment show in history and is at National Harbor through July 22nd. The circus features urban themes and music that Black audiences can easily resonate with (i.e.: the “Soul Train” line), the circus’ diverse acts with performers hailing from Chile, Mongolia, Cuba, West Africa, Ethiopia, Russia, China, Trinidad and the USA, will thrill all ethnic groups.
On opening night, June 21, Ringmaster Lucky Malatsi, a native of South Africa, and his sidekick Zeke, quickly kicked off the high energy show that spans three hours but which has so much funk and soul that time quickly passes by during the production.
Caribbean Dynasty, with stilt walkers breathing fire and limbo dancers slinking under fiery poles just six inches above the floor, set the tone for the evening that only got better with every act.
These included an amazing aerial ballet number by a female and male performer whose display of strength and control was both beautiful and athletically impressive. A horse riding act wowed the audience with performers who rode upside down in their saddles at dizzying speeds even while performing as a five-person pyramid.
The interactive show encourages maximum audience participation and a dance-off between four audience members who had to follow the dance moves of Malatsi was funny and a big hit with the crowd. A dog act with dogs doing backflips and adorned in cute dresses was also a big crowd pleaser, as well as an act with camels and zebras that was amazingly choreographed.
The show’s performers seem to revel in making the experience as personal as possible and come into the aisles to dance with and take pictures with the audience. Children are sent positive messages encouraging them to respect people who look different from them and call and response songs are used to maximum effect.
For its 25th anniversary, the circus seems to have pulled out all the stops, and the motocross daredevils, who fly up to 50 feet into the air, will leave one on the edge of their seat. Aptly named the Flatout Freestyle motocross bikers, the group fly over the heads of the audience and travel 75 feet before landing. Equally impressive was The Wheel of Death where three performers from Peru and Guinea run and jump on a giant steel wheel as it rotates at a fast speed.
Walker has been quoted as saying that soul has no boundaries, and his inclusive show proofs just that. For more information on the circus and to purchase tickets, visit www.universoulcircus.com.