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Behold the Pickles

Traveling circus mixes theatricality, tomfoolery to create 'The Big Bang.'


How much can you reasonably ask from a pickle?

A little snap? A bit of spice? Fair enough.

How about a multisensory journey that careens through time and space before bringing you home again?

That would seem a bit much from a lowly cucumber. But you can expect it from the New Pickle Circus.

In one of only two Southern California appearances this year (they were in Santa Barbara on Wednesday), the San Francisco-based touring troupe stops by Fullerton's Plummer Auditorium on Friday to blend circus skills, theatricality and tomfoolery in "The Big Bang . . . And Other Rude Noises." The two-hour show is recommended for schoolchildren through grandparents, said artistic director Tandy Beal.

Beal is the Bay Area dancer-choreographer who helped pluck the Pickles out of near financial ruin in 1993. Founded in 1974, the maverick band was in such bad financial shape that its equipment was being repossessed and its members were bunking four to a room to cut travel costs.

Beal, director of the Tandy Beal & Company modern dance troupe, had helped create past Pickles shows and stepped in with her nonprofit Friends of Olympia Station.

Now back in the pink--and in the black--the company proudly touts its heritage as "the first professional troupe in the Western Hemisphere to start the new circus renaissance" for its mix of traditional circus arts with original music, dance and stories.

Dozens of companies have followed suit through the years, ranging from such grass-roots operations for kids as Make*A*Circus to internationally known heavy hitters such as Canada's Cirque du Soleil.

You're sure to see some form of juggling, clowning or aerial work in all of these shows, and you may even see some of the same performers (Pickles veteran Diane Wasnak, for example, recently joined Cirque du Soleil). But the Pickles have a flavor all their own, Beal said from her home in Zayante, a small mountain community in Santa Cruz County.

"I think what is very particular to us is a sense of humanity, as well as exuberance," she explained. "There's an emotional involvement with the performers."

Intimate, no-ring staging helps bring audience and performers physically closer, and a loopy story line peopled by affable, sometimes tweaked characters helps forge the emotional bond. Beal, however, is careful not to make the show's characters too believable.

"It's important for [the audience] to identify with the performers as real human beings. You have to know they are vulnerable, that they are taking risks doing these incredible feats."


In "The Big Bang," we meet a mom and dad (Joe Krienke and Stephanie Thompson) who are a couple of real clowns. (And what child can't identify with that?) Having misplaced their kiddies for the umpteenth time, they join forces with a passing alien on a search that takes them from the "big bang" to the distant future.

Performers present an array of circus acts along the way, including Wang Hong's Chinese parasol-balancing, representing the "light at the end of the tunnel" when the couple passes through the Dark Ages, and a solo act in suspended rings by aerialist Aloysia Gavre, representing a star dangling in the cosmos.

Jeffrey Gaeto's original music, performed on stage by a four-member fusion band, and David Cuthbert's lighting seam the acts together. Video sequences blending computer animation and live-action footage, a new addition to the troupe's bag of tricks, help speed the show's heroes through time and space.

"This is a really gorgeous show . . . high-tech edged right up against warm and human," Beal said.

For those worried that a two-hour sojourn through world history might be a bit much for youngsters, Beal assures that the show's pacing is always lively. Sometimes it's almost meteoric.

"The Dark Ages, the Middle Ages, the Renaissance. . . . We whip right through that in about 30 seconds," she said. "It's our own fractured history of the Earth."


The New Pickle Circus presents "The Big Bang . . . and Other Rude Noises" at 8 p.m. Friday at Plummer Auditorium, 201 E. Chapman Ave., Fullerton. $20-$25. ($2 discount for seniors and students with ID). (714) 278-3371.

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