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Orchestral Music Review Print

Cirque de la Symphonie, or Don't Try this at Home!

June 29, 2009 - Cary, NC:

Summerfest continued in Cary’s Regency Park with an all orchestral program conducted by William Henry Curry, the NC Symphony’s take-on-any-task Maestro. This time he offered Cirque de la Symphonie, an eight-person team of jugglers, acrobats, and clowns with distinguished performing pedigrees. Yes, we realize that the Symphony itself has been doing its own juggling of late and that its history includes more than a few clowns, too, but these folks are the real thing, with backgrounds in various Cirque endeavors, the Bolshoi Ballet, the Moscow Circus, and the Olympics. It showed, too, as Irina Burdetsky, Aloysia Gavre, Jaroslav Marciniak, Alexander Streltsov, Vladimir Tsarkov, Elena Tsarkova, Christine Van Loo, and Dariusz Wronski (to list the names in alphabetical order) moved from awe-inspiring and breathtaking – and, often, breathtakingly beautiful – act to act, each seeming more astounding than what had come before. They floated through the air, suspended by a single rope, often flying from brilliantly-colored fabric drapes that gave “curtain-climbing” a whole new meaning and context. (Don’t let the kids – or the cats, for that matter – try any of this at home.) It was so impressive that the immense crowd – estimated by an old Summerfest hand to be one of the two largest gatherings in 23 years, aside from July 4th extravaganzas – seemed barely to heed the music, which was presumably the primary purpose of the evening. No matter. This was art at a very high level, and if we can admire great dancers or great singers with outstanding orchestral accompaniment, then the same applies here.

The music was a typically eclectic Curry mix that might have been entirely his invention, although presumably the Cirque artists have prepared certain routines. (That said, there seemed to be nothing routine about them, for first-time viewers.) Things got underway with music from Delibes’ Sylvia (there was more from this score in the second half), followed by Saint-Saëns’ ”Danse macabre,” bits from Bizet’s Carmen, the famous Waltz from Tchaikovsky’s Eugen Onegin, Chabrier’s “España,” and the “Bacchanale” from Saint-Saëns’ Samson and Delilah. (Sounds a lot like a Beecham program, doesn’t it, with all that delicious French music!)

Part two brought music from Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake, a Bacchian procession from Sylvia, a Slavonic Dance by Dvorák, the Polonaise from Eugen Onegin, the singularly appropriate “Dance of the Tumblers” from Rimsky-Korsakov’s Snow Maiden, and the Bach-Stokowski Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, of Fantasia (I) fame.

The playing was wonderfully spirited and precise, and the (amplified) sound was solid and very nicely balanced although – again – just a bit too loud for the space, in the view of this listener. This may have been driven in part by the large crowd, which was sometimes a bit restless – but never, ever restless while the guest artists did their awesome things. From that opening act, with the little lady circling over the lip of the stage at various rope-driven levels, tying herself into the drapes, letting go, sliding down, flipping over, doing aerial splits, and much, much more to the polished juggling to the turntable-fueled parallel-bar-like gymnastics to the grand finale, this was truly a program to remember with fondness and gratitude to the presenter and the entertainment-savvy managers of this series.

One thing nearly blew the mind. After intermission, Curry came on in a white dinner jacket atop his customary black vest and long-sleeve shirt. (How does he do it in 90-degree weather?) Two Cirque folks came on, too, and indulged in a bit of magic while – magically – the orchestra just kept playing, all by its own self (as we say) – without a stick-waver(!). The lady was tied up in various ropes, the legitimacy of which the Maestro himself verified and attested to. The two of them were then encased in a (substantial...) black drape. The curtains twitched and shimmied for a time – and when the cloths were cast aside, voila! Curry’s coat was on the lady – under all those ropes that had been tied around her. (To tell the truth, some people must have thought that one of them was going to disappear, but that trick will be saved for another day….)

The other thing that left folks sputtering in amazement was the gymnastic display of Jarek and Darek’s “Duo Design” (Jaroslav Marciniak and Dariusz Wronski), performed to the Bach Toccata and Fugue. These former Polish national hand-balancing champs did things with their bronzed bodies that most of us wouldn’t be able to accomplish in states of total weightlessness – things like one guy balancing his entire weight on one hand on the other’s head while extending his body upward, upside-down – and then having his partner stand up, and change positions, too. Yep, the word “awesome” is horribly over-used nowadays, but it applies to these artists, and their performance capped a truly exceptional program of music and (physical) art that must rank among the best yet given at Summerfest. Wow!

(There was an encore – the Waltz from Swan Lake – but it seemed somewhat anticlimactic, even with the return of swirling-in-air Cirque artists from earlier in the evening.)

These concerts continue on Saturdays through July 18. See our calendar for details.