WASHINGTON – If the UniverSoul Circus, the black-owned extravaganza that will be performing in the National Harbor from June 24 to July 19, is anything, it is dazzling, funny and incredibly unique.
The circus, which has been touring the nation for 21 years, features the acrobatics, gymnastics, animal acts and clowns and comedy that audiences have come to know and love from such festivals.
But only at UniverSoul will they find themselves singing and dancing in a carnival atmosphere infused with hip hop, classic R&B, jazz and gospel jazz, or, as audiences in Baltimore experienced recently, have the local state attorney and a city council member perform as the ringmasters.
It was just last month that Baltimore City State’s Attorney, Marilyn Mosby, the woman who indicted six police officers in the nationally-publicized death of Freddie Gray, joined her city councilman husband to lead the UniverSoul audience in dancing and singing during its four-week engagement there.
All of those unique turns are what makes this culturally-infused event the show Cedric Walker said he was striving for when he created the circus in 1994.
“As the most interactive circus in the world, we want you to be a part of the show.” Walker said. “It’s all about getting up dancing, singing along and watching incredible performances that will blow you away.”
This year’s theme is “Your Life Matters,” an unapologetic blend of entertainment, morality and social commentary that infuses African-American culture into a traditional circus setting, Walker said. It is truly a show for all ages, he added.
One person who carries the responsibility of maintaining the audience’s enthusiasm is Ringmaster Lucky Malatsi.
“It’s very challenging to be the ringmaster,” Malatsi said. “It’s my job to keep the crowd entertained between acts, to interact with call and response. But I love a challenge.”
Malatsi was only 11 when he joined the circus. He has been with UniverSoul for 14 years, first performing in a duo contortionist act, and also has experience as an acrobatic hip hop dancer and trapeze artist.
Walker, a former concert and theater promotion who worked with the Jackson 5 and the Commodores, said he had a particular goal in mind when he formed the circus.
“The vision was to explore the various talents other than singing and dancing that black performers had to offer,” he said. “The UniverSoul Circus introduced a different culture to circus artistic expression. In doing this, it accelerated the opportunities for people of African descent in the circus industry on a global basis.”
Since those early years, UniverSoul has grown multi-culturally. It not only includes African-American performers, but also performers from Africa, Trinidad and Tobago, Ethiopia, China, and South America.
Walker said the key to the success of UniverSoul for more than 20 years is staying connected to the audience.
“The passion and commitment we have for our audience drives every creative decision we make,” he said. “Seeing smiling faces, watching our fans dance, sing and laugh makes it all worthwhile.”
Among the many performers at the UniverSoul Circus, the audience will see:
African Dreams Circus Pole Act
The seven-member acrobatic team from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, maneuver skillfully along 30-foot vertical poles.
Trinity: Trio Hand Balancing Act
Strength, flexibility, fluidity and grace are what audiences can expect from the young women of this balancing act trio. Hailing form Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Trinity marks their first U.S. appearance as part of the UniverSoul Circus.
Navas Brothers: Wheel of Death
Also in their first year with the UniverSoul Circus, Ecuadorian brother duo Ray and Ronnie Navas’s performance will have audiences on the edge of their seats as they run and jump along a giant steel wheel circulating high in the air.
The Wuhan Flying Trapeze
The 13-member aerial group from Wuhan, China, will dazzle audiences as they fly, flip and catch one another from an oscillating trapeze.
Color Me Caribbean: Caribbean Dance, Limbo and Stilts
This dance troop from Trinidad and Tobago combines high energy Caribbean dancing with stilt performances as well as a limbo act taken a step further with the addition of flames.
The Willy Family: Motorcycle Globe of Death
Hailing from Colombia, this family combines excitement and danger with four motorcycles riding at high speeds within a single spherical steel cage.