Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Looking back at a Master of the Impossible

Kubínek in mid-flight.

I did want to take a moment to look back - before they're too small in the rearview - at Tomáš Kubínek's performances at ArtsEmerson a little over a week ago. The self-advertised "Certified Lunatic and Master of the Impossible" has been performing his quirky variant of what I suppose are now called "circus arts" to spellbound crowds across the globe - and in his first moments onstage, Kubínek did cast a strangely potent spell over his audience at the Paramount Theatre.  Creeping out into the half-light in an old-world robe, babbling softly to himself, his hair a ghostly nimbus around his head, Kubínek conjured an almost eerie atmosphere while doing hilarious battle with a lone candle.  Were we locked in the curiosity cabinet of some ancient wizard?, I wondered.  Had we been kidnapped by some wizened gypsy caravan?  Or were we watching a silent scrap of existentialism long lost in Samuel Beckett's wastebasket?  For a time Kubínek kept us delightfully guessing as to the true nature of his persona and act - even the proportions of his body seemed unstable - as he simultaneously kept us howling at some of the subtlest pieces of sleight-of-hand (and pure schtick) that I've ever seen.

Alas, the spell couldn't last; indeed, it was slowly broken by the performer himself, as the lights rose, he began to speak (and then engaged directly with the audience), and slowly emerged from several levels of eccentric disguise to reveal - well, a consummate physical performer, yes, but also one who was happy merely to entertain rather than enchant.  Does that sound ungrateful?  Maybe it does - and I really shouldn't be; like the rest of the crowd, I left the show happy.  But I still wished that among the pratfalls and tricks, Kubínek had somehow been able to hang onto his first, utterly evocative persona.  At the same time, if he comes back to town, I have to admit I'll be in the first row.

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