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Step Right Up

by Jeff Nania on February 16, 2012

Bindlestiff Family Circus
Club Helsinki, Feb. 10

The live variety show has made a comeback in a big way. This performance by the Bindlestiff Family Cirkus was part of a monthly series that Club Helsinki and the Cirkus presented this winter, and that ends next month. The variety arts encompass everything from circus to sideshow, burlesque, and vaudeville. The Bindlestiff Family Cirkus gives you a taste of each one of these slices from people who obviously know a lot about the rich traditions that they represent. This cabaret-tailored production featured everything from whip cracking to sword swallowing, acrobatics, balloon blowing, and toilet-paper-tightrope-of-doom walking.

The toilet-paper-tightrope-of-doom was created by performer Dave Cox and a hand-selected group from the audience. Cox’s act involved a 1000-foot two-ply roll of toilet paper, two stands, and three knives. He lined up the volunteers and then ran back and forth across the stage draping the toilet paper over their arms as he went. When the roll was spent, he asked the people to roll it into a rope. Before you knew it he was walking from stand to stand on the makeshift tightrope and juggling knives as he went.

Stephanie Monseu, co-founder of the BFC, has seen her fair share of oddity. She has said that Cox is “the most bizarre human” she’s ever met. Monseu, in her Ringmistress Philomena guise, used even more blades in her act. A stand the size of a stepladder was carefully ringed with machetes that she used to chop various objects in half. She then climbed the machetes in her bare feet and juggled knives.

Monseu segued “from the surreal to the sublime” by introducing “Miss Ekaterina,” a gifted contortionist with a look straight out of the silent cinema. She comically screamed “Ow, ow, ow” as she stretched her legs behind her head.

The “Wild West arts” were presented by “world champion fastest whip cracker” Chris Daniel. Daniel is an old cowboy who “spun a life” for himself with a series of larger and larger lassos. He jumped through a huge lasso again and again as he sang a song.

BFC cofounder and performer Keith Nelson (aka Mr. Pennygaff) summed it up pretty good when he said “a hundred-thousand-dollar liberal-arts education, and this is what I do for a living” after drinking single malt scotches, throwing tops, and swallowing swords. He even swallowed a glowing-red sword, after the house lights had been lowered so you knew he wasn’t faking it. Nelson also spun an 11-pound top and caught it on his hand. “Just imagine,” he said to the audience, “an 11-pound drill press boring a hole in my hand.”