Run off to the circus with Gonzo's Kaleido Star
I secretly want to be a circus performer.
At least, it was a secret, and then I published that desire on the Web for all to see.
Secret or not, it's true. I've just returned from seeing the internationally acclaimed Circus Flora, an impressive one ring show based right here in St. Louis, and I have to say I was moved.
And it was not just by the kid in front of me, wiggling around to get a better view of the show.
Seeing these people - all of whom were in incredible shape - bounding around on ropes and horses, swinging in the air, launching themselves from trampolines, and all the while telling a story put to live music... it was an impressive sight. I fell in love with the performers, as well as the tale they were telling. We clapped when they did well, and we clapped even harder during the rare times they made a mistake, cheering them on.
They even made me forget that I was sitting on a cold, hard, metallic bench with the knobby knees of an older gentleman resting against my back.
Kaleido Stage, however, is a circus on an entirely different level, albeit with a kindred goal. The costumes are as elaborate as the choreography for the performers, some working on giant trampolines as others utilize trapeze wires that stretch the length of the cavernous performance hall. Pyrotechnics, complex stage machinery, and a multichannel sound system all come together to help the audience escape from their lives for a single glorious night into the dream world concocted by the owner, Kalos.
Yet, such a world would not come to be without the impeccably talented troupe of Kaleido Stage artists making it a reality.
The story of Kaleido Star centers around Sora Naegino, a sixteen year old girl from Japan who has dreamed of joining Kaleido Stage since she attended one of their shows as a child. The Stage is in America, though it features performers from all over the globe. By leaving her adoptive parents in Japan, Sora eschews a happy life in Japan in order to pursue her dream. Sora is a skillful acrobatic gymnast, but she lacks quite a bit of the Western training in subjects such as ballet that other applicants for the Stage possess.
Though she is unquestionably talented, Sora is quickly stricken with bad luck when she arrives in the U.S. on the day of auditions for Kaleido Stage. As she tries to get directions to the Stage from an older woman, she is assaulted by a strange man who openly ogles her body. When he comes a little too close to her shapely legs, she jumps back, giving a thief the opportunity to grab her luggage and take off. With the aid of a kid who loans her some inline skates, Sora rockets after the culprit, bouncing off awnings and dodging traffic with the athletic grace that only a truly gifted acrobat could exhibit. Eventually, she nabs the offender amidst applause from the crowd that witnessed her impressive pursuit, though she is, in turn, nabbed by the police and taken in as a runaway.
With a few crowd-pleasing stretches, she convinces the employees at the local station that she is not a runaway, but rather an applicant for Kaleido Stage, and one of the officers eventually offers to drive her to the audition.
Sadly, Sora arrives too late to apply and is turned away by the star of the show, Layla Hamilton, for her tardiness. Salvation comes from an unlikely source when Kalos, the owner of the Stage, turns out to be the man who was so offensively enchanted by Sora's muscular legs. He witnessed her unprompted performance on the streets, and believes she has potential. Thanks to his intervention, she is made a part of the freshmen class of performers at Kaleido Stage, though Layla openly expresses her discontent for Kalos admitting a girl with such obviously unprofessional traits. This dislike is conveyed along the rest of the cast and crew, and Sora has a rough time adjusting to life at the Stage, but that isn't to say that she can't make any friends at all.
For one, there's Mia Guillem, a young woman from Holland whose carefree demeanor belies her determined and intelligent nature. Mia's biggest fan is her ailing grandmother, and she performs with all of her strength, as hard as she wants her grandmother to strive to live. While she was as incensed at Sora's apparently easy entry into the troupe as anyone else, Mia quickly realizes that there's more to Sora than she first believed.
The seemingly cool and aloof American, Anna Heart, is actually an aspiring comedienne. She's good friends with Mia, and thus accepts Sora as soon as Mia does. In truth, Anna's biggest beef with Sora was her ability to make people laugh so easily, and had little to do with the way Sora became a part of Kaleido Stage. Her relationship with her absentee father isn't very strong, but her desire to make people laugh is inspired entirely by his brilliant gift for comedy. However, Anna is taller than average, and she has trouble saying the right thing at the right time. Her good looks and natural gymnastic skills have earned her a number of fans - male and female - though she'd much rather be known as a world famous clown than an acrobat.
Ken Robbins helps Sora adapt to life at the stage, and he is obviously (to everyone save Sora, that is) smitten with her. Like Anna, he is also native to the States, though he isn't a fellow gymnast. He has a weak heart, which prohibits him from doing too much strenuous physical activity - though he appears content enough to serve as a stage manager. He is particularly content when helping Sora.
Sora's idol and role model before becoming a part of Kaleido Stage, the beautiful Layla Hamilton turns out to be far less friendly in person than her stage behavior would suggest. She doesn't initially accept Sora as a part of the troupe, and she turns many of Sora's other fellow cast members against her in order to drive her out. Despite her rough treatment of Sora, Layla eventually begins to develop respect for the young Japanese girl and her indomitable spirit. Layla's personality may not be too nice, but her aerial proficiency is second to none, and her talent for impromptu acting saves the show quite a few times when the less experienced performers make an error. Her harsh attitude might in fact stem from an extreme dedication to the Stage, which is respectable, though hard on the people who attract Layla's ire.
Aside from Ken, Yuri Killian is the other person who keeps inspiring Sora to continue working for Kaleido Stage. Yuri is the only performer who could be considered Layla's equal. Originally from Russia, Yuri follows Layla around wherever she goes, though the relationship between the two is not exactly clear. He's probably one of the most significant reasons that Sora has trouble seeing Ken from a romantic perspective, for Yuri is painfully attractive and he seems to take an interest in the new cast member. Whenever Sora's desperate for aid, Yuri seems to appear from nowhere and give her a key hint in maintaining her rise to stardom.
All of the first year members of Kaleido Stage reside in housing provided by the Stage. It is within this dormitory that Sora gets to know two other important characters - Sarah and Fool.
Sarah is another veteran performer that Sora has always looked up to, and she is surprised to discover that the diva of the Stage is her dorm supervisor. She's even more surprised to learn that the sophisticated, captivating singer is actually an exuberant party animal with an unsafe interest in martial arts.
Adding an element of magic to the story, the character of Fool is less of the jester that his name implies and more of a prophet. Fool is the self-proclaimed "Spirit of the Stage," claiming to appear only to those who have the potential to become a star. Sora has trouble enough believing that she can hear and see the diminutive spirit, let alone his assertion that he's interested in Sora for her talents.
She's quite convinced that he's only there to spy on her when she bathes, and his insistence that she make friends to bathe with only further strengthens her hypothesis. However, the threat of Fool peeping is easily eliminated with a tiny roll of string and a little blindfold. Only time will tell if such blatant disrespect toward the Spirit of the Stage will have untoward repercussions in Sora's performance career.
Fool uses a deck of tarot cards to give Sora a hint of what may be coming for her in the future. Yet he's less of an influence and more of an indicator of what she chooses to do with her own free will. Regardless of his purpose in Sora's life, his presence adds an interesting mix of mystery, spirituality, and comedy to the story.
There truly are many stories out there that tell us we should follow our dreams, that we can fight impossible odds to do whatever it is that we'd love to do most. Hard work, determination, and luck each go a long way in every person's quest for happiness. Perhaps it will take more than just one trip to the circus or one entertaining anime series to convince us of that fact, but then, maybe if we hear that message enough, we'll begin to believe it. And let's face it; you've got to believe that your dreams are within reach before you even start to stretch for them. If this show brings you even one step closer to inspiring you to do what you want in life, then it's worth it.