The combination of circus acts and symphony orchestras has been around for a while. Cirque Musica, created by local producer Steve Cook, has sent trapeze artists sailing over the audience and above a symphony orchestra that’s playing classical music. The Dallas and Fort Worth Symphony Orchestras have both featured the show. His competitors, such as the king of cirque shows, Cirque du Soleil, as well as imitators like Cirque Dreams, fill venues around North Texas. Cook’s innovation was to bring the Cirque to the concert hall. Now, he has emancipated it to be on its own.
Cook has produced a version of Cirque Musica that is self-contained. The show has its own orchestra, as well as the usual thrilling aerial circus acts, motorcycle daredevils, clowns and even guest musicians. It opened on Saturday at Dr. Pepper Arena in Frisco and will immediately launch on a tour of more than 20 engagements in similar facilities around the country. The first out-of-town stop is tonight, June 25, in Tulsa.
The results are a palimpsest: a new creation that consists of transparent overlays of diverse layers that do not necessarily have anything to do with each other. Each of these layers is of interest in and of themselves; the juxtapositions can sometimes be wonderful, but odd at other moments.
One example of the bizarre occurred when the gifted young violinist, Veronica Gan, suddenly flew 30 feet up in the air while still somehow still managing to play a truncated version of Tchaikovsky’s violin concerto. Some scantily clad women were doing a high wire act behind her, but most of us were riveted by Gan as she dangled above, bravely playing the cadenza. We were worried for her of course, but also for the fate of the fragile violin she was clutching as she sailed in an arc overhead. She had a safety wire, but did the instrument?
An example of the sublime is Darren Bersuk, who is both gorgeous and lyrical in his balancing act, accompanied by Ravel’s sensuous Bolero. He displays astounding strength and grace as he slowly moves from one position to another—muscles rippling.
Since this was a preview, there wasn’t a program so we were dependent on the announcements by Ringmaster Ambrose Kashmir, who was low-key compared to others in this role. He looked like Don Knotts in a fright wig and he lacked energy and wit, but he kept the show moving smoothly and ending on time. One hopes that there will be a program supplied or for sale in the future.
The orchestra, which you (programless) assume is a per-service group hired for the occasion, is conducted by Christopher Wells (pick-up musicians in each city will be used). In general, they did a fine job but needed at least one more rehearsal. Vocalist Ali Isabella sang two original songs, composed for this show, by pop star-turned-Broadway actor, Debbie Gibson.
When we were not distracted by Gan’s precarious position, the Wallenda Highwire Duo was impressive as was the Extreme Españas, a family of daredevils. They balance on the “Wheel of Death,” a huge rotating pair of circles, drive their motorcycles on a high wire and in concurrent crisscrossing patterns inside of a metal mesh globe.
David Larible, a superb clown with Ringling Brothers credits, is hysterical in his routines, all of which are subtle and silly at the same time. Dressed in a suit or tails with only a rubber nose to acknowledge his craft, he uses members of the audience to create surrealistic skits that are increasingly funny as they go on.
AJ Silver, resplendent in full cowboy grab, does some amazing rope tricks and bull whip cracking. The music is a combination of pops favorites and well-known classical selections that range from Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony to Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture.
In a brief intermission conversation, Cook said that he starts with the music. He told me that his mission is to bring classical music to a wider audience by combining it with other art forms and diverse performances. Cirque Music certainly accomplishes this goal. How it translates into expanded symphony season ticket buyers is yet to be seen, but we should all be grateful that he is at least making the effort. No one can successfully do two things at once, so it is difficult to concentrate music while feats of breathtaking derring-do are going on simultaneously.
Thus, Cirque Musica succeeds better at the former word in its name than it does the latter. But it was a fun afternoon of both. They even had cotton candy.
◊ Below is a video shot at a recent press event in Frisco. It features Darren Bersuk, vertical pole artist in Cirque Musica; and Denton-based violinist Veronica Gan, who performs the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto in D Major while suspended in air.