As a musician and someone who reviews concerts, it’s very strange to hear the word “busking” and think of anything other than live music. However, that certainly didn’t stop me from enjoying the Auckland International Buskers Festival - the Night Show was a delightful testament to street performers continuing a practice that seems stuck in time, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. There’s no ill will, no ego, just a pick & mix assortment of practices that have been going since the 1920’s.
The show began with Christchurch’s own Mullet Man, the MC for the evening. He began with a slew of mullet-themed jokes, a highlight being his assertion to a very international crowd that “mullet” is actually a Te Reo word meaning “a gorgeous man.” He warmed up the crowd for the evening’s performances with some classic Kiwi humour and some classic juggling, “5 balls!” he shouted as he juggled, “Not that good if you’ve seen European jugglers, but it’s pretty good for a New Zealander!”
The first act was French four-piece dance and acrobatic troupe, Surprise Effect, who brought a strong beginning to the evening with their mixture of comedy, gymnastics and breakdancing. Their act had two highlights, a contorting gymnastic lift involving all four members that they called “The French Flower, made with the power of love, cheese and wine” and when they brought a man (Kyomi from Japan) up from the crowd and in an escalating turn of events he found himself shirtless and imitating a choreographed fight between himself and one of the members. The act ended on the surprisingly poignant note: “Diversity is a strength!”
The second act was Kozo Kaos the knife and fire juggler, “all the way from Auckland.” He brought up TJ, an audience member, to throw him his flaming pins, and in his comedic Kiwi style said the warning: “This is real fire, in fact I've never heard of fake fire, so watch out.”
It took me a long time to work out who the odd suit-wearing mime was. The Atari Show from Argentina took to the stage several times between other acts, never being introduced (until the very end) and not entirely performing. His first act was him doing something with a balloon and a little girl from the audience that was very hard to see from most angles, before he abruptly left.
Up next was Mighty Mike, introduced as North American – to which he immediately responded “I’m not from North America, I’m Canadian. Which means two things: I don’t own a gun; and I didn’t vote for Trump,” winning over the crowd. His was the classic Circus strongman act – he bent a horseshoe on his leg, tore a pack of cards in half, and in an anxiety inducing minute-and-a-half he blew up a hot water bottle until it burst with a bang.
The highlight of the entire evening was Mullet Man’s improvised belittlement of the Saturday-night crowd who were taking countless selfies from their fancy apartments above the square where the performance was taking place. The entire crowd was in stitches waiting for the group of young, drunk youths to notice that they were being made fun of through a microphone.
Hero-san from Japan took the stage next, performing gymnastic feats of upper body strength, including lifting himself and a large audience member off the ground balanced on his open palms, to convince the man to join him he said the almost poetic line: “I’m the rice, you’re the fish, together we’re sushi!”
Then German juggling duo, Opus Furore took to the stage and proceeded to juggle pins between each other as they each took off almost all their clothes, before putting all their clothes back on. All while continuing to juggle to Big Band music and the Macarena.
Australian, Chris Blaze – The Fire Ninja was next up. Holding aloft a flaming and spinning double-sided candelabra to Marilyn Manson’s The Beautiful People, he spun and danced. Later, he explained that he’d had a “number of friends collapse their lungs” while attempting these activities, before he transferred fire from torch to torch using his tongue.
The Atari Show’s final try was a crowd-winner. Bringing the physical comedy and clowning to a head, he magicked a tiny box out of a small box out of a large box, before pulling himself through a detached zipper, and leaping around the stage with disappearing and reappearing measuring tapes.
Penultimate performer was Reuben Dotdotdot, an Australian ex-Cirque Du Soleil member, who balanced and spun on his podium, impressively picking up his hat with his feet and contorting himself to place it on his head.
Last up, for the finale was Molly & Glory, the Silver Starlets from Canada – whose acrobatic setup had been in the way for the entire show, blocking the view from either side. They were a great finale despite that, calling up audience regular TJ again to be their third member, and after a comedic start they finished with an amazing performance of twisting and twirling around the trapeze. At one point one of the Starlets played the air guitar on her left leg while hanging upside-down from her right foot, which was wedged between the other performer’s thighs – a real testament to their physical strength and how easy they make it look. Their act ended with them standing on each other’s feet, at opposite hemispheres of their trapeze.
Check out all these acts and more at the Auckland International Buskers Festival, on until Monday the 28th of January.