Circa’s “Carnival of the Animals” from Australia and The Box Brothers from Holland are bringing their wondrous family entertainments to Santa Monica College Performing Arts Center’s Broad Stage starting this weekend.

The Box Brothers are a team of four percussionists from the performance troupe Percossa who combine Japanese percussion, African rhythms, minimal music, jazz, funk and dance into a huge rhythmic party. There are only two performances at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. this Saturday, April 16.

Circa is a performance troupe that’s created a 50-minute romp through the animal kingdom, featuring seven circus arts-trained performers interacting with projected animations, centered around the classical com- position, “Carnival of the Animals” by Camille Saint-Saëns. There are just four performances April 28, 29 and 30.

The Box Brothers show is described this way: “Oldest, Middlemost, Youngest, and Simpleton are the Box Brothers, four brothers who live in a box. Together with their best friend Big Drum, they set out on a boisterous musical journey to find happiness.”

In an email interview from the Netherlands, Freek Koopmans of Percossa told me that the group started out as formal- ly trained classical musicians. “Long, long ago” he explained, while they were still poor students studying at the Royal Conservatory, “we drove in an old second-hand car with a trailer full of instruments to the South of France for the warm weather and to perform in the streets. The only way to get there and be able to stay was to play for money. So we were busking, learning to capture people’s attention and keep them entertained as long as we could.”

Upon returning to Holland to become full-time stage performers they connected with Oorkan, the only Dutch organization dedicated exclusively to creating high quality music productions for young audiences.

“We had become successful with our grown-ups show,” Koopmans continued, “and found lots of people were bringing their children along as well. But the younger kids couldn’t come because shows would finish too late at night. We created Box Brothers for them.”

I asked Koopmans what it is about percussion that cuts across all ages and cultures. “Percussion is mostly about rhythm,” he said “and rhythm is a universal language. Wherever we are in the world, one bar of drumming will make kids start to move. Something about the sound and energy speaks to the heart directly. And although adults may control themselves a bit better they, too, are instantly touched by the rhythm of percussion.”

Why boxes? “It had to do with the sound, musical and spatial possibilities. The Box Brothers go on a quest and we found that the boxes could suggest a lot of environments like a forest, a road but also our homes, beds. Even a guard house.”

AN ANIMATED CARNIVAL 

Think of Circa’s production as a mini- Cirque du Soleil designed for the stage rather than the Big Tent. Performer Billie Wilson-Coffey, who’s been studying the circus arts since she was 11 years old (she’s now 27), told me, “They are both circuses, but executed entirely differently.

“Circa focuses on the humanity of the performer, our relationship with one another and our bodies, so our shows are quite minimal. We’ve got red noses, we’re interact- ing with animated animals projected on the screen and with the music itself, so it’s a different kind of circus.”

Despite no fancy special effects, she says, “Every two minutes there’s a scene change; so there’s full on skipping for two minutes, the next scene is aerial and two minutes after that we’re tumbling, diving through hoops, and so on.”

The animals tumble, leap, fly, and spin: zebras juggle, kangaroos somersault, and elephants dance with street cred. And even dinosaur bones shake, clatter and roll to the music.

The music itself has been a favorite across generations since it was composed in 1886. Each of the 14 movements explores a different group of animals, and for this production, the original suites have been reworked and extended by Australian composer Quincy Grant.

On stage Circa performers are accompanied by and interact with sumptuously detailed animation created by UK-based Australian video designer Michaela French.

She said, “I wanted to re-create the feeling I had as a child when I’d read a book and there was the sense that it might just be possible to slip into that imagined world. I wanted the animation to have a quality of moving through the pages of a children’s book but it became much more than that. When the banners unfurl from their suitcases, the stage is set and an adventure begins. There is a whole world of wonder to discover and explore, with journeys from the bottom of the ocean to outer space and a parade of animals who entertain, terrify and delight audiences of all ages.”

The Box Brothers appear at The Broad Stage this Saturday only; and Circa’s Carnival of the Animals will be here April 28-30. For more information and reservations call the box office at (310) 434-3200 or visit www.thebroadstage.com.

Photo by Justin Nicolas