Summery Cirque brightens Verizon Hall

Posted: January 07, 2014

How nice. The Philadelphia Orchestra brought a bit of medium-weight summer entertainment to the dead of winter with Cirque de la Symphonie, a group of nine acrobats, aerialists, and jugglers performing with some surprisingly new, even challenging, music at Verizon Hall on the year's first weekend.

Associate conductor Cristian Macelaru led pops repertoire such as Saint-Saens' "Bacchanale" from Samson and Delilah, mixed with more provocative works - George Antheil's Hot-Time Dance, Samuel Barber's "Hesitation Tango." The visuals were Cirque solos or duos mixing athleticism and balletic grace, and tending more toward the latter. In fact, Arturo Marquez's Danzon No. 2 featured a pair of tango dancers who heightened the usual steps with more gravity-defying moves, giving an airborne spin to a fundamentally earthy genre.

Unexpected counterpoint is Cirque de la Symphonie's distinction. None of its feats - beautifully done - transcended anything I'd seen before, but all seemed a few degrees beyond the typical. Some of the more menacing musical territory of West Side Story was explored in Cindy McTee's 1990 Circuits, used here to accompany what might have been less-than-consequential juggling by Vladimir Tsarkov.

This isn't Cirque de Soleil, which seeks to create its own dream world of more original visual and audio stimulation with only passing references to the familiar. Cirque de la Symphonie, which has performed with the Pittsburgh Symphony at the Mann Center and the Philadelphia Orchestra at Vail, pushes boundaries with gentility. Dressed in angelic white, Alexander Streltsov made you realize this is the first time you've seen a bare-chested man on any Kimmel Center stage. Nothing revolutionary, but good for a date night, which is what the Friday's show seemed to be.

As with Cirque de Soleil, the music/circus combination gives emotional gravity to what might normally be perceived as unusually good gymnastics. Routines that were sleights of hand - the split-second costume changes in Zequinha de Abreu's Tico-Tico no Fubá - had poetic implications: Were costume changes a metamorphosis into something significant?

Where Cirque de la Symphonie truly utilizes the music is in creating a flow: The most cohesive circus acts are still episodic - even when managed as smoothly as the aerialist who flew out over the audience trailing red streamers - and need a few seconds of stage time to set up the next feat. But with Sibelius' Finlandia thundering away, you simply didn't notice.


dstearns@phillynews.com.

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