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The feats of fleas

May 08, 2003|Anne Valdespino | Times Staff Writer

Hurry, hurry, ladies and gentlemen step right up, pay only $5 and see an amazing spectacle -- the Cardoso Flea Circus at the Orange County Museum of Art.

Yes. At the museum. Colombian-born artist Maria Fernanda Cardoso has taken a 19th century novelty act and turned it into an art installation.

A flea circus? Blame any skepticism on the original circuses, which weren't all real. A few flim-flam men used sleight of hand to make it appear as if the teensy insects were actually performing.

But Cardoso has spent hours re-creating the lost art of "training" fleas; they instinctively respond to her breath, light and heat sources.

At the museum, visitors will see an elaborate big-top tent in rich, brightly colored taffeta, silk, rayon and cotton. Its sides are painted with pictures of her "headliners," advertising their fantastic feats: diving from high platforms and being shot from cannons.

Circus rings the size of drums contain tiny equipment including swings, trapezes and high-wire contraptions that look like some kind of science experiment.

But it's the showmanship that pulls viewers in as they see Cardoso on an accompanying video, dressed in a circus costume complete with cape and magnifying visor. She becomes the ringmaster, leading her little stars through a series of tricks.

A mighty flea with a wire attached to its back pulls a toy train. Two more fleas sway back and forth on Cardoso's thumb, seemingly dancing a tango.

The real diva is Cardoso, who leads them all using nothing but a pair of tweezers.

Maybe it's not the greatest show on earth. But don't take anyone else's word for it. Put five bucks on the counter, see it and believe it or not.


Cardoso Flea Circus, Orange County Museum of Art, 850 San Clemente Drive, Newport Beach. 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesdays-Sundays. Continues through Aug. 17. (949) 759-1122.

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