'Weird' focuses on discrimination


December 17, 1991|By Steve McKerrow

The first rule of any civilized society, says Linda Ellerbee, should be to "let the people be different." Yet in the last of three news special for young people on cable's Nickelodeon network tonight, she demonstrates how societies collectively conspire against difference.

"Nickelodeon Special Edition: We Are the Weird" can be seen at 6:30 p.m. on the network for children. (And for taping purposes, additional "Cable in the Classroom" screenings are scheduled at 6:30 a.m. tomorrow thorough Thursday and again next Monday through Thursday, Dec. 23-26.)

Host Ellerbee has found some unusual examples of prejudice, which she defines artfully as "feeling without thought."

The show explores the story of a Louisiana high school golf team member, black, who was barred from playing in a tournament at an all-white country club. The nice part of the story is that his white teammates chose not to play, either.

Sex discrimination is examined in a story on a Texas woman who had to fight prejudice to become a bull rider in the rodeo. And another segment takes up the issue of height discrimination.

In the show's most unusual story, we are taken to the Cherokee Indian nation -- but not to explore prejudice against native Americans. Instead, the story is also about sexual discrimination. The focus is a Cherokee woman who wanted to be chief, yet had to overcome the notion that only males could be tribal leaders.

The show is a production of the former network commentator's Lucky Duck Productions firm.

A SUPER CIRCUS -- Wow! The second cable appearance of a unique French-Canadian performing troupe that mixes theater and dance with traditional circus dexterity is just as enchanting as the first, which won an Emmy Award for Outstanding Special in 1989.

"Cirque du Soleil II: A New Experience," debuts at 8 tonight on the HBO premium service (with repeats Dec. 21, 27 and 30 and Jan. 5 and 9).

Featured are acts whose essential skills -- clowning, wire-walking, trapeze "flying," contorting and acrobatic balancing -- would fit in any conventional circus.

But here, a stunning combination of choreography, costume, music and lighting elevates the performances to something that lies between Broadway-style spectacle and modern dance.

The Cirque du Soleil troupe was recently seen in Washington, and originated in 1984 with a loose collection of Quebec street performers. Viewers who loved the first Cirque du Soleil special on HBO in April, 1989, should know the acts are all new.

The best one? Media Monitor is a sucker for trapeze artists, and both solo swinger Anne Lepage and the Flying Fools team are very, very good. But clown/ringmaster David Shiner, an American who was trained in Germany yet reminds one of Charlie Chaplin, also does an audience-participation pantomime sequence that is laugh-out-loud funny.

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