The Muskegon Chronicle
Review: 'Cirque de la Symphonie' combines power and grace with sublime melodies
March 3, 2012
Contortionists, aerialists, strongmen and jugglers owned the Frauenthal Theater on Friday night in a program designed to please the classical music lover and the symphonic neophyte.
"Cirque de la Symphonie," a pops concert presented by West Michigan Symphony, brought artistic performers from around the world and offered a magical treat for a Muskegon audience. Nearly 1,500 people took advantage of this rare entertainment opportunity on Friday night in downtown Muskegon.
The musical and visual elements melded together as roughly 65 musicians shared the stage with six artists from various cirque programs from across the globe. The acrobatic movements were carefully choreographed to the music. The combination was clearly successful, as the applause at the end of each number was almost deafening.
To accommodate the acrobatics, a thrust stage was installed enabling the performers to bring their athletic feats closer to and even above the audience. The lighting design added another layer of artistry to the program with the use of spotlights, colored gels, and projected background patterns.
The concert consisted of several shorter numbers, beginning with a resounding rendition of Hector Berlioz's "Roman Carnival Overture."
During the popular "Danse Boheme" from Georges Bizet's "Carmen,"Vladimir Tsarkov, a Harlequin-clad juggler from Russia, manipulated multiple rings and won the heart of the audience with his talent and comedic pantomime.
The movements of Elena Tsarkova, a contortionist from Russia, were graceful and seductive. She was able to make her body a mere collection of rubbery limbs as she contorted herself into willowy knots during Aram Khachaturian's "Valse" from "Masquerade." The number's dynamic chords and rising crescendos were a fitting accent to Tsarkova's eerily beautiful gymnastic poses.
Operatic pieces were a welcome addition to the program, such as Camille Saint-Saens' "Bacchanale" from "Samson et Delilah" at the end of Act I. The brass section was particularly piercing and dynamic as Christine Van Loo, an American aerialist, swayed and swirled on a hoop hung from the ceiling of the Frauenthal Theater. She made daring moves seem simple, even when precariously dangling above the stage by her ankles in a pose that defied gravity, balance and common sense.
Tsarkov included Music Director Scott Speck in his magic trick during Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky's "Danse des Cygnes" from "Swan Lake" at the beginning of Act II. As the symphony continued a pulsating rhythm, Speck assisted the magician with a rope trick.
Johannes Brahms' "Hungarian Dance," performed sans a cirque artist, was precise and clean with the violins providing sweet, lyrical moments.
Balancing mid-air in acrobatic contortions that seemed suicidal, Van Loo performed on an aerial rope during Camille Saint-Saens' "Danse Macabre." With balletic movements, she was able to balance, spin, ascend and descend on a thick rope precariously hanging from the ceiling of the theater.
The evening was filled with energetic, melodic music, but John Williams' song "Across the Stars" from "Star Wars: Episode II" was particularly sublime. During this beautifully played romantic piece, Alexander Streltsov, a Russian aerialist, worked his magic with two ribbons of white cloth hanging from the ceiling. His touching performance intermingled acrobatics, dance, and drama.
The evening ended with Maurice Ravel's "Bolero," and Speck promised the audience that they had not seen the number performed quite this way before. Indeed, he was probably right. The music faded into the background as Jaroslaw Marciniak and Dariusz Wronski, Polish national hand-balancing champions, took to the stage and presented a tightly choreographed act of power and agility.
With metallic-painted, smooth bodies, these two men performed neck- and back-breaking poses of balance and strength. They smoothly transitioned from one impossible position to the next, their poses often looking like the mythical god Atlas holding the world on his shoulders.
Although the visual acts dominated the evening, they did not detract from West Michigan Symphony's clear and focused performance. The artistic combination of symphonic music, graceful choreography, and amazing acrobatic feats made for a night of aural, visual, and soulful perfection.