Gregory G. H. Rihn (milwaukeesfs) wrote,
Gregory G. H. Rihn

Cirque du Soleil, “Saltimbanco”.

I had gotten us tickets for “Saltimbanco,” for the evening of the 4th, a Cirque du Soleil production that had a short run in Milwaukee. “Saltimbanco,” which means a mountebank or charlatan, (from the Italian "saltare in banco", which literally means "to jump on a bench") was one of Cirque du Soleil’s earlier productions, first running in the 1990’s, revived a number of times since then, and has toured extensively. The show’s format, which works in the style of a European single-ring circus, lends itself well to a touring format, and will fit into a large number of venues. That does not mean all venues fit it equally well, however. The Bradley Center, which was built as a basketball/hockey stadium, has few really good seats for this sort of thing. Most of the seats in the regular stands are rather far away from the action, and close-up chairs added on the floor end up looking up at the stage from a rather acute angle. That said, we got seats that had a good angle on the action, and opera glasses brought in details when desired.

The show began with clowns (the so-called Grotesques) interacting with the audience. As we later learned, there is a basic troupe of performers that work in most of the group functions, with a few specialist performers. So, most of the cast clown, sing, dance, move gear, and perform spectacular acrobatics, which makes them one of the hardest working groups of performers I have seen.

After the clowning, there was a musical number which introduced the rest of the cast, including singer Chantal S. Blanchard, whose operatic voice accompanied a number of the acts. The first formal piece was the “Adagio,” a classically styled balancing act with three performers, which was done with great grace and style. This was followed by the “Chinese Poles,” in which the troupe performed exceptional feats of strength and physical control. The show features no animals, so what is done is “limited” to what can be done by humans—mostly. Some of the things we saw, I would have sworn that human beings could not have done. Such a feat first shows up in the Chinese Poles, when one of the men climbs the pole using only his hands, while holding his body out away from the pole at arm’s length! (A video of this performance can be seen here: ) This performance made me realize how incredibly strong people can be without being hugely bulky. Truly amazing.

After the Poles, the chief clown, “Eddy” (Amo Gulinelo) did the first of two spots where he did extensive mime interacting with the audience, supported by clever sound effects. These pieces are quite funny but run a bit long until one realizes that the rest of the cast are using the time to make extensive changes of costume and makeup.

Eddy was followed by a number of specialty performers interspersed with musical bits: the “Artistic Bicycle,” (Ivan Do-Duc), Juggler Luis Miguel Velasquez Terry, and the “Boleadoras” (Adriana Peguroles). These were mostly classical types of acts, but carried to new levels of skill and innovation. In particular, juggler Terry juggled first three, then four, then five, six and seven balls at such amazing speed that a machine would have been hard put to match it. The Boleadoras act is a percussive dance routine, wherein the performer rhythmically strikes the floor with a weight that is spun on the end of a rope while keeping up a Flamenco-like accompaniment with the feet. (Technically, these are “poi” rather than the multi-ended South American bolas, but probably far fewer people would know what a poi was than a bolas--.) This requires excellent fine motor control and spatial awareness.

After intermission, sisters Ruslana & Taisiya Bazaliy performed together on the duo trapeze, which act also amazed one at the extent to which one human being can catch and hold another using only the strength of one’s feet, among other maneuvers. The “Russian Swing,” which came next, is hard to describe, but it is a muscle-powered device that is capable of shooting an acrobat thirty feet in the air. Most of the performer did various tumbling moves, but what made the crowd roar was the small woman who performed a double (at least) back somersault to a perfect landing on a balance beam borne on the shoulders of two men who were in turn standing on the shoulders of two other men. One who knows a bit about these things knows that the positioning of the catchers is vital to stunts of this type, but if they had to adjust more than a fraction of an inch to make the catch this time, we could not see it.

Eddy gave another spot, in which he involved a very game member of the audience, while the cast changed. The next act was another strength balancing act, followed by a musical number, followed by the “Bunji” routine. This involves four acrobats on trapezes, who are hooked into bunji harnesses that allow them to spring from the floor of the ring to the trapeze, and float down again, all choreographed to the Cirque’s original music. Equally as important to the act were the ground men, who precisely controlled the height of the trapeze bars and the tension of the bunji harnesses. This reminded me of the beautiful “Cranes” act we saw years ago at the Moscow Circus, where the acrobats performed an aerial ballet between the trapezes and a trampoline-like net. This was followed by a musical finale, during which we were pleased to give the corps a standing ovation.
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