Review by Jordan Roqmore | Photos Courtesy of Portraits by Bryan
Gentle, airy music floats from the orchestra in the background as a graceful woman climbs two long ropes of white silk. Twenty feet in the air, she commences to flip, bend and balance her small form in a series of nimble, gravity-defying movements. This aerial ballet interweaves with the music to tell a magnificent story, commanding the audience of nearly 2,000 to simply watch and listen.
The East Texas Symphony Orchestra collaborated with six Cirque de la Symphonie performers to put on a show at the Cowan Center on Nov. 17. ETSO’s next performance of Shall We Dance on Jan.13 will also be a collaboration featuring tap dancer Max Pollak.
“Over 15 years ago, I was always looking for a way to present circus in a fine arts setting,” says Bill Allen, executive director, producer and co-founder of Cirque de la Symphonie. “I got to spend some time with the Moscow circus, and I was so impressed with their dedication to the art form. I had been doing things here and there with circus and music, but people kept encouraging me to formalize it and offer it to orchestras. Eventually, that‘s what we did.”
The performance incorporates the solo and duo talents of the cirque performers along with classical music from over 60 orchestra members. Richard Lee conducted the ETSO through pieces written by Tchaikovsky, Bizet, Strauss and many more while everything from aerial skills to electric juggling took place on the front of the stage.
“The joy was that we got to fuse these two art forms together,” says ETSO Executive Director Nancy Wrenn. “Cirque just feels like it was made for classical music. I was so pleased with the outcome of the performance.”
During the fast-paced music of Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries,” cirque artist Alexander Fedortchev does an aerial rope routine that includes an intentional fall from nearly 20 feet in the air.
Just as the music reaches its finale, Fedortchev slides horizontally down with only his hands on the rope, slowing himself just as his body comes to rest on the floor.“The strength and flexibility of the acrobats was just incredible,” says ETSO patron Lee Hensarling. “It was fabulous with the music and the choreography. I’m thrilled that they came to Tyler.”
Other cirque acts during the performance include contortion/dance, aerial hoop, spinning frame and cube, hula hoops, juggling, and an aerial duo. ETSO patron Shauna Emery has a daughter in the orchestra who also studies violin at Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn.
“Normally when you see an orchestra, there is no extra visual element,” Emery says. “I just loved seeing the performers blend with the music. It was beautiful.”
The various groups that make up Cirque de la Symphonie will be performing with over 60 orchestras this year, including 10 shows for an Australian tour. Allen says he would love to have a troupe perform in Tyler again in the future.
“In 2005, we incorporated the first only cirque company in the world that works exclusively with orchestras,” Allen says. “Our cirque artists are the best in the world at what they do. For them, there is no better experience than performing for a sold out house with a powerful orchestra booming behind them.”