After practically twisting himself into the proverbial pretzel to perform “contortionist push-ups,” juggling a running chain saw and cracking up the crowd with his cheeky jokes, Al Millar's grand finale involved perching on a 12-foot pole and keeping three long knives and himself in the air while his specially made “Triple-Trouble, Double-Ended Ice Axe Blender Blade” twirled over his head like a perilous propeller.
“If you like the show, tell your friends. If you did not like the show, keep it to yourself. No one likes a whiner,” Millar joked before he put the handle of the homemade blade in his mouth and sent it spinning.
Apparently, this is what going to work looks like when you're an internationally known contortionist/comedian with the stage name ALAKAZAM and the job description “The Human Knot.” And, really, it must be seen to be believed.
The native Australian is this year's official street performer for the Festival of the Arts, which means three times a day during downtown Oklahoma City's annual “rite of spring,” he does his feats of flexibility and daring in the clearing between Stage Center and the food and artists tents.
The festival's street performer tradition goes back to at least the 1970s, said Emily Trotter, communications manager for festival organizers at the Arts Council of Oklahoma City.
“It's the biggest crowd I've ever seen for a street performer here. It's very entertaining,” Trotter said Thursday as people gathered on bleachers, curbs and grassy spots to watch “The Human Knot” tangle and untangle himself. “He's not just juggling bowling pins here, folks.”
Millar wiggled his entire 6-foot, 155-pound physique through the frame of an unstrung squash racket.
“No way!” squealed students from Mustang Creek Elementary School as they watched Millar squish and squirm his torso and limbs to maneuver the small round of plastic from his head to his feet, all while spouting self-deprecating, occasionally bawdy one-liners.
“I just like to try all kinds of stupid stuff. ... This is not for everyone,” Millar said after the show as he explained how he started with his racket trick. “There's lots of things I've tried that didn't work.”
‘Born this way'
Millar, 34, began his street performing career in 1996, but adds, “I was born this way.”
From a young age, he realized he was double jointed and particularly flexible, and in elementary school, he proved a natural entertainer. He has honed his skills through years of street performing and vigorous training.
“The audience interaction, that takes time. That takes a lot of learning,” he said. “I can teach you to juggle in about an hour, but to learn to attract an audience and hold an audience, that takes years.”
Along with performing on the international festival circuit since about 1999 — he typically tours from March through October — Millar was a runner-up on the TV show “Australia's Got Talent” in 2007 and made an appearance last year on “America's Got Talent.” He has performed for the likes of Sting, Bruce Springsteen and Woody Harrelson.
He has gigs coming up in Germany, Holland, Belgium, Sweden, Switzerland, Iceland and Canada.
Making his first visit to Oklahoma City, Millar said he has enjoyed the friendly people. He said one festivalgoer even gave him a ticket to Tuesday's Thunder game after catching a performance.
“Like the crowds here are amazing ... they're really loud and responsive, just great audiences, laughing at everything,” he said. “I don't know if it's Southern hospitality, but everyone's really nice. You know, the food here is great, the art here is great, the bands are all great, and the hotel I'm staying at is great. I've got no complaints.”
He even found an unexpected taste of home on International Food Row, which this year added Australian toasted sandwiches called jaffles to the menu.
“I'm standing in front of the place answering the question ‘What's a jaffle?' like every five seconds,” he said with a laugh. “But that's cool.”
The Human Knot at the Festival of the Arts
The 46th annual Festival of the Arts continues from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday at the Festival Plaza, on Hudson Avenue and at the revamped Myriad Botanical Gardens in downtown Oklahoma City.
Al Millar, aka ALAKAZAM: The Human Knot, performs from noon to 12:30 p.m., 2:30 to 3 p.m. and 7:45 to 8:15 p.m. Friday and Saturday and noon to 12:30 p.m., 2 to 2:30 p.m. and 4 to 4:30 p.m. Sunday.
For more information, call 270-4848 or go to www.artscouncilokc.com.