Pioneer Press: Cirque Mechanic’s Gantry Bike just one spectacle of Flint Hills festival

Maja Beckstrom, Pioneer Press 5/27/14

Every year, the Flint Hills International Children’s Festival books a show-stopping outdoor performance. It needs to rise above crowds, enthrall restless school students and force downtown workers to abandon their lunchtime errands.

This year’s spectacle is Cirque Mechanic’s Gantry Bike, a 20-foot circus scaffold that will roll through downtown St. Paul like a pedal pub powered by two guys in recumbent bikes. While jugglers perform below, acrobats will flip from hoops, ropes and rigging lowered from two metal towers.

Dayna Martinez, who works for the festival organizer Ordway Center for the Performing Arts, spotted the street show in a list of acts performing at a festival in Toronto.

“There was Cirque Mechanics with their new contraption,” Martinez said. “I thought, ‘I gotta have that!’ ”

Now in its 14th year, the Flint Hills festival attracts 55,000 people to weekday school performances, which run Tuesday through Friday, and public events on Saturday and Sunday. It’s among the largest international children’s arts festival in the country and a model for several others, including one in Cleveland, according Martinez.

Held the weekend after Memorial Day, the festival has become so popular that some indoor performances sell out weeks beforehand, but that shouldn’t keep families from going. Tickets for many indoor performances remain. And the plentiful outdoor entertainment is free, including Gantry Bike shows through Sunday. On the weekend, more than two dozen local groups will perform free shows on stages in Rice Park and outside Landmark Center. There will be Indian and Scottish dancers, hip-hop artists, African drumming, calypso, and mariachi, along with strolling stilt walkers, jugglers, magicians and face painters and tents sponsored by local arts organizations and filled with activities for kids.

Four groups will each perform two ticketed public shows at indoor venues on Saturday and Sunday ($5).
De Temps Antan. (Courtesy photo)

— De Temps Antan trio from Quebec play French-Canadian music featuring fiddle, accordion, harmonica, guitar, bouzouki and singing in French. (Only a few tickets remain.)

— The local dance and theater company Flying Foot Forum performs a scaled-down version of its new commission from the Ordway, “Alice in Wonderland,” told in promenade style with the audience moving along with actors and participating in the storytelling. The Flint Hills shows are sold out, but tickets are available for the two-hour show coming to the Ordway in September.

— Step Afrika! based in Washington, D.C., is the first professional company to perform stepping, a percussive dance of complex and often synchronized stomps, claps and chants developed by African-American college students and based on earlier traditions of African movement and song.
Terrapin Puppet Theatre‚Äôs “Love. (Photo by Peter Mathew)

— Terrapin Puppet Theatre from Australia performs “Love,” a story with traditional and digital puppets about a brave boy and his mother as they help their community prepare for a big storm.

Tickets and the full schedule are available through Ordway Center for the Performing Arts, 345 Washington St., St. Paul; 651-224-4222.

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