On Stage: Cirque du Soleil: Amaluna comes to Oaks

By Denny Dyroff, Entertainment Editor, The Times

Custard, from Cirque du Soleil: Amaluma.

There are two circus-style events coming to the area this week – but not the traditional one-ring type with lions, tigers, elephants and clowns.

One is Cirque du Soleil — a new age style circus from a circus company that constantly pushes the boundaries. The other is a concert by the Rolling Stones, a show with a circus-like atmosphere and Mick Jagger as the Ringmaster.

From July 24-August 25, Cirque du Soleil will take up residence under the Grand Chapiteau (Big Top) which has been erected on the grounds of the Greater Philadelphia Expo Center (100 Station Road, Oaks, https://www.cirquedusoleil.com/usa/oaks/amaluna/buy-tickets).

Kids of all ages know that a trip to the circus is as much about the snacks at the show as it is about the show itself. Popcorn is a must. Other popular pre-show and intermission treat items are cotton candy, sodas, hot dogs and custard (a.k.a. soft ice cream).

With “Amaluna,” no matter what food items are sold in the lobby of each venue, the show will always have custard – Kelsey Custard.

Custard is one of Cirque du Soleil’s veteran clowns who is on tour as part of the cast of “Amaluna.”

“I’ve been with Cirque du Soleil for almost nine years,” said Custard, during a recent phone interview from her home in Los Angeles. “I started with the show ‘KA’ in Las Vegas and I’ve performed with ‘Luna’ on and off.

“I’ve always been into theater. I grew up in northern California in a town near Placerville called Shingle Springs.”

Shingle Springs seems like a town name suitable for someone with a career as a clown. It’s not a city…or even a town. Shingle Springs is a “census-designated place” (CDP) in El Dorado County.

Like many of the other towns in California’s Mother Lode, Shingle Springs grew on the site of a mining camp set up by gold miners during the California Gold Rush. It took its name from a horse-drawn shingle machine capable of producing 16,000 shingles a day that was located near the springs at the western edge of the camp.

Custard didn’t hang around in Shingle Springs after she graduated from high school.

“I attended The University of California Santa Cruz and received a BA in Theater Arts,” said Custard, referring to the college that has “Fighting Banana Slugs” as its mascot. “Then, I took a clowning class. I found it online. After that, I went to Clown College and fell in love with clowning.”

Custard moved to San Francisco to attend the Clown Conservatory where she received a Rubber Chicken.  After that she started working for local circus’ and theatres.  She has worked for Shakespeare Santa Cruz, Teatro Zinzanni, Pickle Family Circus, Velocity Circus, Boxcar Theatre, Circus Couture and Lone Star Circus to name a few.

Custard was contacted by one of her Clown teachers from the Clown Conservatory who had recently joined Cirque Du Soleil’s casting scouts.  He told her that she needed to audition, and he helped her get a spot in the San Francisco Clown auditions in early 2010. She had dreamed of working for Cirque du Soleil but had no idea that that was even something she could actually do.

She attended the audition, and, out of 80 clowns, she was one of six that made it into the company — and the only female.  She got put into the system and nine months later they called her asking if she could move to Las Vegas in a week. She said yes and packed up her life and has been with the company ever since.

“You still get a lot of people that don’t realize clowning is an art form,” said Custard. “We’re nice people who like to make people laugh. Clowns are pretty important in ‘Amaluna.’

“I have two acts as a clown onstage and one in the audience. It’s a lot of work – but it makes it go by quickly.”

“Amaluna” is a celebration of women created and directed by Tony Award winning stage artist Diana Paulus. The production invites the audience to a mysterious island governed by Goddesses and guided by the cycles of the moon.

Inspired by Greek and Norse mythology, Mozart’s “The Magic Flute,” and Shakespeare’s “The Tempest,” this large-scale Big Top show features a cast comprised mostly of female artists including a 100 per cent female band, which is a first for Cirque du Soleil.

“‘Amaluna’ is loosely based on ‘The Tempest,’” said Custard. “It’s about strong women.”

The story takes place on an island governed by goddesses. During a storm, a group of men are washed up on shore. The queen’s daughter falls for one of the young men, and the trials of their love are the basis of the show’s main narrative through-line.

“Amaluna” has many acts associated with circus performances such as “Unicycle,” “Teeterboard,” “Aerial Straps,” “Chinese Pole,” and “Juggling.”

Other acts feature genres usually associated with women such as ballet in “Peacock Dance,” gymnastics in “Uneven Bars,” water ballet in “Cerceau and Waterbowl,” and a combination of gymnastics and ballet in “Banquine.”

“It’s a very strong feminist show with an all-female rock band,” said Custard. “There are a lot of female performers and a lot of females working backstage.”

There are 25 nationalities represented amongst the Amaluna cast and crew members: Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belarus, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, France, Guam, Japan, Kazakhstan, Mexico, Netherland, Poland, Russia, Spain, Singapore, Taiwan, Switzerland, Ukraine, United Kingdom and United States.

The cast of Amaluna comprises 48 artists. An additional 67 employees travel with the show to serve the functions of artistic management, customer service, tour services and technicians for the show and the site setup.

The Big Top seats more than 2,600 people and requires a team of approximately 60 people to raise it.  The canvas for the tent and its 11 tunnels weighs approximately 5227.3 kg.

As always, this Cirque du Soleil production promises audiences a breath-taking experience – and lives up to that promise in every performance.

Video link for “Amaluna” – https://youtu.be/B7OE-50wsOk.

Video link for Kelsey Custard — https://youtu.be/3ft06hJlUgI.

Performances of Cirque du Soleil’s “Amaluna”  will be presented from July 24-August 25 under the Grand Chapiteau in Oaks. Ticket prices start at $54.

While you have more than a month’s worth of shows from which to choose if you want to see Cirque du Soleil’s “Amaluna,” you have just one night to see an area performance of the Rolling Stones’ “No Filter Tour.”

After postponing their the North American leg of their “No Filter” tour due to Mick Jagger‘s heart valve surgery, The Rolling Stones rescheduled their June 4 show in Philly. On July 23, the tour will touch down locally at Lincoln Financial Field (Pattison Avenue, Philadelphia, www1.ticketmaster.com).

Bernard Fowler with Mick Jagger

Obviously, Stones’ fans will be focusing their attention on Keith Richards and Mick Jagger. Music fans will look past the obvious and tap into the great singing job done by the Stones’ main backup vocalist Bernard Fowler.

“I’ve been with the Stones for quite some time,” said Fowler, during a recent phone interview from New Orleans, Louisiana. “I met Mick through Bill Laswell. I worked with Mick first. I was on his first solo album, ‘She’s the Boss.’ That was the start.

“I hadn’t seen him for a long time and then I was in London with Tackhead in 1989. He got in touch with me and invited me to the studio. I met the rest of the Stones that day. I was asked to join the Stones on their ‘Steel Wheels’ world tour in 1989 and I’ve been on every Stones album since.”

Fowler sang with the groundbreaking dub-electronic band Tackhead as well as downtown avant-funkers Material. Along with iconic DJ Larry Levan, he was a founding member of the New York Citi Peech Boys, who emerged from Manhattan’s fabled early ‘80s house/garage scene. Blue-chip visionaries like Philip Glass, Yoko Ono and Ryuichi Sakamoto have had him sing on their records.

Two projects in which Fowler played a big role were Public Image Ltd.’s landmark 1986 “Album” and Herbie Hancock’s hit mid-’80s electro-funk albums. His dynamic vocals have appeared on hundreds of albums for artists as diverse as Alice Cooper, Duran Duran and Bootsy Collins.

Fowler’s newest solo endeavor, “Inside Out” (released April 19 on Rhyme & Reason Records), is a brilliant re-interpretation of songs from the Rolling Stones catalogue, recasting them in a mode often reminiscent of the pre-hip-hop work of the Last Poets and Gil Scott-Heron. In the process, Fowlerforges a new, very personal identity for songs he’s performed for decades.

It was an impromptu jam session on the congas during a Stones sound check that set the album in motion.  Stones front man Mick Jagger, impressed by the combination of Bernard’s beatnik inflection of the lyrics and his funkified percussion, encouraged him to cut a record, saying, “Bernard, I’ve heard Rolling Stones songs played in many different ways but I’ve never heard it like this before.”

“With the new album, I was looking to do something different,” said Fowler. “I didn’t want to make another record like my last few albums. I wanted a different vibe.”

The project turned out to be an interesting adventure.

According to Fowler, “I had an amazing time rediscovering these songs.  Even though making this recording wasn’t easy to do, I’d gladly do it all over again even if I knew the bumps in the road ahead.  Later, I played a taste for Keith, and he looked at me and said, ‘Damn, Fowler, you went deep…’.”

Fowler definitely did some research.

“The Rolling Stones had some really good records that people didn’t hear,” said Fowler. There are songs with strong lyrics that people aren’t familiar with. I went to the bookshop and got ‘Rolling Stones Songbook Volume 1 and Volume 2.

“The new album is for all the Rolling Stones fans out there. This will help you hear songs you’ve heard before in a new light.  They may take on a new meaning. This album is dedicated to you.”

Video link for the Rolling Stones – https://youtu.be/9g7RmKF-gRI.

Video link for Bernard Fowler – https://youtu.be/sYt6A0dbKZc.

The show at Lincoln Financial Field will start at 8 p.m. Ticket prices start at $160.

The first time vocalist Rosie Bones and guitarist Carmen Vandenberg  played this area was a few years ago as member of Jeff Beck’s touring band.

The last time they performed in the area, they came as a duo called BONES and played shows at the Chameleon Club in Lancaster and Union Transfer in Philadelphia.


They’re coming back on July 23 for a show at MilkBoy Philly (1100 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia, 215- 925-6455, www.milkboyphilly.com). They are still a duo act but now their name is BONES UK.

“We had to add ‘UK’ to our name because an American band already had the name BONES,” said Bones, during a phone interview Monday afternoon.

“Right now, we’re on our way to Philly from New York. We just had three days of rehearsals in New York and we’ll open the tour in Philadelphia.”

BONES UK is touring in support of its self-titled debut album which was released on July 12 via Sumerian Records. Three weeks ago, the British musicians premiered the captivating video for “I’m Afraid of Americans” at The FADER.

Referring to the video, Bones said, “We wanted to play with American stereotypes and go darker on them. It’s like the seedy underbelly of the American dream.”

On their self-titled album, Bones and Vandenberg confront everything from the beauty industrial complex to toxic masculinity to music-scene sexism, embedding each track with choruses primed for passionate shouting-along. “BONES UK” unfolds with an entirely uncontainable sound, a riff-heavy collision of rock-and-roll and rough-edged electronic music.

“We finished the album three months ago,” said Bones. “We spent time finding the right songs. We recorded most of the album at home. We prefer to not use studios. It’s too expensive. And, recording is more fun at home. We use Logic to record our music.

“It’s just the two of us. Carmen plays lead guitar and I play rhythm. We hire a drummer when we play live. Right now, Heavy is our drummer for this tour.”

Bones and Vandenberg were co-writers on Jeff Beck’s latest album “Loud Hailer.”  Last year, they were key members of British guitar legend’s touring band for the album.

Vandenberg tore it up on rhythm guitar while Bones handled vocal duties. Additionally, music by BONES UK has appeared on Netflix show “Orange is the New Black,” Amazon show “Transparent,” and a “Victoria’s Secret” ad.

“Me and Carmen started the band in London about a year before we met Jeff,” said Bones. “We met at a blues bar in London. Carmen was playing and I was drinking. We decided to get together. I thought she was amazing. She’s an incredible guitarist.”

Buying two one-way tickets from London to Los Angeles, the BONES UK ladies landed in America. Forging their own distinctive sound with the help of vicious guitars, provocative lyrics and industrial electronic drum and bass, the two guitarists have already begun making an impact.

“Beautiful is Boring,” an earlier single, is an anthem about embracing your quirks and celebrating your imperfections. The gritty video follows them creating mass hysteria while playing at a nightclub, celebrating all things imperfect and manifesting itself in adoration from extreme fans.

According to Bones, “We are so used to seeing girls screaming at boys in bands, so we wanted to flip the gender role. It’s rewarding to see what it feels like from the other side.

“Still, we’re just a band that happens to be girls. We’re not a feminist band. We only ever write songs about our own experience.

The two found their musical chemistry quickly.

“We just played rock and roll,” said Bones. “She was playing riffs and I’d throw back ideas. I also play guitar and we both play guitar onstage. She plays lead and I do rhythm. I sing and she does some background vocals.”

Vandenberg and Bones write all their own music.

“Our inspirations for songs are things we’re thinking about,” said Bones. “The songs come all different ways – sometimes a lyric idea and other times something in guitar.

“What we call our music is modern rock for the future – electronic elements with blues influence. Carmen is very influenced by the blues. We play high energy music. We want as much energy as possible. When we play the albums songs live, they get louder and more energetic.”

Video link for Bones UK – https://youtu.be/9uGvX3q9zfY.

The show at MilkBoy Philly will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $12.

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