The San Francisco Examiner
Cirque de la Symphonie dazzles and defies death, choreographed to Christmas carols at SF Symphony
December 7, 2009
San Francisco Symphony presented the dazzling and elegant if not death-defying Cirque de la Symphonie on Saturday night to a full house of delighted and mesmerized adults and children. So you thought coping with the holidays proved death-defying enough in itself? Come, take a seat, sit back and relax.
The orchestra, conducted by Donato Cabrera, played a perfectly chosen set of Christmas classics elegantly and even included a song from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone on this magical evening. Incidentally Cirque de la Symphonie has no official connection to Cirque du Soleil but some of the artists have worked with Soleil among many prestigious European and American groups. The artists adapted the performance to the tiny confines of the orchestra stage and the airspace above it, choreographing the cirque to the set of mostly carols.
Twisting the Nutcracker?
Interestingly conductor Cabrera never turned to face the audience or the performer who often dangled and posed high above and behind his head. Once when the jester juggled a rainbow of lit bowling pins, the music ended with finality but the last pin had yet to finish it's decent to the hand of the juggler. It could have been intentional as it provided a fine comic moment with the conductor turning around just in time to see the catch. That would be mime and juggling artist Vladimir Tsarkov, juggling rings and batons to Parade of the Wooden Soldiers and to the Russian Dance of the Nutracker Suite.
So you thought hula hoops went the way of the lava lamp?
World class aerial acrobats, gymnasts, contortionists and strong men gilded bald head to toe for Christmas held the hall spellbound. Starting with the only American, acrobatic gymnast Christine Van Loo performed on red aerial silks, costumed in white with her blond hair in a pony tail. Each soloist demonstrated feats of strength and control from head to toe. However Irina Burdetsky, the hula hoopster in her red dress with mistletoe pattern, provided some comic twists. An irresistible show off, the brunette twirled her hoop around the tight, doll-like little bun on top of her doll-like head. She almost winked at the audience. She with her comic sensibility was a campy, crowd pleasing joy to behold.
Those who love the Nutcracker ballet across the street would appreciate a couple of numbers performed to Nutcracker Suite songs. Maria Malachikhina, contortion and dance. Her novel and daring presentation breathes fresh air into the classic song. A woman with a gymnast's ball balanced on a pedestal, essentially performing her waltz of the flowers with beauty and delicacy and precision. The waltz continued with a lovely harp solo. She continued the performance in her gold and black leotard with her gymnast's streamer tied to a baton, also reminiscent of the Nutcracker ballet.
Sleigh bells ring, are ya'll listening?
The percussion section jingled it's merry way along with the triangle tinkling. The harpist plucked strings along with the spirited violin sections. I imagine the musicians themselves had a great time during this novel event, looking at the animated smiles on their faces and how they would glance happily at each other while playing. The percussion section included jingle bells plus a pair of clacking boards almost like that you see on a film set but used to create the crack of the whip on a sleigh ride. What do you call that? I like it, where can I buy one for my boyfriend?
The brass section managed a great horse's whinney.
The music became seductive and exotic, an Eastern sound as an aerial acrobat spun in a hoop hanging high above the stage. The audience roared as the music became a frenzy and the acrobat hung by just her feet hooked over the bottom of the hoop. No net. Aloysia Gavre in her aerial hoop and Bacchanale from Samson et Dahlia.
A male/female team in some serious black performed next, he spinning her rope from the stage while she whirled in mid-air. It's Christine Van Loo and her partner performing to Danse macabre, Opus 40.
In contrast, the hula hoop girl added some comic cheer after the drama. The mischievous jester brought out about twenty more hoops for her to spin at once after she showed off by spinning a hoop around the bun on her head.
The Dynamic Duo
The most dramatic applause and cheering came from the gilded pair of muscle men who arose like statues on a platform from below the stage. Jaroslaw Marciniak and Dariusz Wronski performed "Duo Design". They are former Polish hand-balancing champions. Every move came in measured slow motion using impeccable balance, strength and counterbalance. Incredible precision and timing created the most beautiful poses an artist would love to paint or sculpt.
Ave Maria, elevating la cirque's finale
The grand finale came in the form of aerial artist Alexander Streltsov, pictured above, an angelic young man floating out and over the front rows of the audience to Ave Maria. He would wrap his feet or wrists in the white streamers suspended from above the stage and take flight. He performed pristinely in his winter fresh, snow white pants and naked torso. He was beautiful and only cracked a smile on his smooth, serene face when he came back to the stage for a bow before the elated audience.
Here's the wonderful set list.
Holiday, Leroy Anderson: A Christmas Festival
Howard Blake; arr. Tony Osborne : "Walking in the Air" from The Snowman
Leon Jessel; lyrics Ballard MacDonald: "Parade of the Wooden Soldiers"
Ralph Vaughan Williams; arr. Ralph Greaves: Fantasia on Greensleeves
Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky: Waltz of the Flowers from Nutcracker Suite, Opus 71a
Sergei Prokofiev: Troika from Lieutenant Kije Suite, Opus 60
Camille Saint-Saens: Bacchanale from Samson et Dalila
Georges Bizet: Farandole from L'Arlesienne Suite No. 2
Camille Saint-Saens: Danse macabre, Opus 40
John Williams: Harry's Wondrous World from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky: Russian Dance from Nutcracker Suite, Opus 71a
Wolfgang Amade Mozart: German Dance, K.605, no.3, The Sleigh Ride
Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov: Dance of the Tumblers from The Snow Maiden
Holiday, Harry Simeone, Henry Onorati, Katherine K. Davis; arr. Robert Wendel : "Little Bolero Boy"
Franz Schubert; arr. Carmen Dragon: "Ave Maria"
English, Holiday, Traditional; arr. John Finnegan: "We Wish You a Merry Christmas"