Outside the Royal Palm Theater at Cypress Gardens Adventure Park, a brightly dressed gardener and butterfly collector greets visitors and encourages them to enter the theater’s air-conditioned comfort.
Come show time, he strides inside, greets his audience again, and a curtain rises to reveal a three-figure topiary vaguely reminiscent of the ones at the theme park’s Topiary Trail. He sprinkles sparkling dust on the three topes and they magically come to life to perform a mixture of tumbling, ballet, mime, contortions and physical comedy.
In it, Alena Gergay uses rings to simulate a plant’s stalk growing upward and its leaves stretching out. A contortionist uses her body to depict the unfolding blossoms of a flower. Sergay Sergeev is the cascading growth of a series of vines as he tumbles across the stage.
Or not. Maybe Gergay’s rings or the contortions suggest the metamorphosis of a chrysalis to a butterfly or Sergeev’s movement is that of a stream with a waterfall. Only their impresario/waterer really knows.
The brightly dressed gardener Commedia Bottanica – “please don’t call him a clown; it has a scary connotation in America” – is a creation of Iouri Kreis, a Moscow-born and educated circus performer and talent agent who has lived in Winter Haven since performing in a circus acrobatics troup called The Akishins’ “Variety Internationale” show in the pavilion at Cypress Gardens, when it was operated by Busch Entertainment Corporation.
Today, he leads the four-person Cypress Cirque troupe there.
Cypress Cirque’s half-hour show at the Royal Palm continues Thursdays through Sundays through Labor Day, after which the troupe will shift to street performances around the park and mount a holiday-themed show at the Royal Palm in November.
For Kreis, who has worked for Disney parks
and Universal Orlando
since the Akishins’ show closed in 1994, it is a return to working at the place that drew him to emigrate from Russia and ultimately settle in Winter Haven, where he owns a home about a half mile from the park.
“I had performed here when Mr. Busch owned Cypress Gardens,” he says. “So when the park’s managers wanted me to contract a group to perform as part of New Year’s Eve, I was excited about coming back. And when what we did was well enough received that one of the managers said it would be good if what we did could be presented as a show in the theater, I quickly said, ‘I have an idea.'”
His perspective working for the larger parks had kicked in.
“Universal has its film stars. Disney has Mickey Mouse. Cypress Gardens needs someone to express who it is.”
That someone is Commedia, a cirque ringmaster who presents his performers in the context of the gardens’ signature nature themes. The troupe consists of father and daughter Sergeev and Alena Sergay; Odentuya Munkhbold, Uugantuya Otgonbayar and Khongorzul Tseyenoidov, three Mongolian contortionists who alternate performances among them.
“It is a European-style cirque set in old Florida,” Kreis says.
Information & Image courtesy of The Florida Ledger