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Cirque de la Symphonie comes to Columbus

Courtesy of Rolanda Copley

Imagine what it would be like to combine the raw athleticism of cirque performers with the elegance of a symphony orchestra.

Cirque de la Symphonie will do just that when it comes to the Ohio Theatre for a show with the Columbus Symphony Orchestra on April 2.

The Columbus Symphony will play music by composers such as Berlioz and Tchaikovsky while aerial gymnasts, strong men and other acts perform in front of it on stage.

“The beauty and majesty of a live symphony orchestra with all of this eye candy going on downstage is really breath-taking,” said Bill Allen, Cirque de la Symphonie co-founder. “It’s an emotional experience.”

Cirque de la Symphonie is a traveling program consisting of a set of cirque artists that travel from city to city performing with different orchestras.

The cirque artists involved in the show are among the best in the world, Allen said. This includes co-founder and aerial performer Alexander Streltsov, a former gold medalist at the Festival Mondial du Cirque de L’Avenir in Paris at the age of 12.

The selection of the performers is very particular because of the skills required, Streltsov said.

“To perform with the live orchestra, it’s not just a high level of acrobatic skills,” Streltsov said, “You also have to have some level of acting involved.”

The cirque artists choreograph their routines to music chosen by Allen. He then sends the musical repertoire to the orchestra at least six weeks in advance to give them time to learn it, he said.

“When they show up, they’re ready to perform,” Allen said. “Basically, we only need one rehearsal with the orchestra.”

The single rehearsal done before the show is mainly for the orchestra to get used to what is happening on stage in front of them, Allen said.

“I’ve seen the first violin in a couple of orchestras holding his bow up, like a white water canoe novice going down the rapids for the first time,” Allen said. “They get spellbound.”

The program is a mixture of two forms of entertainment with differing audience atmospheres.

Cirque performances tend to draw intermittent applause throughout an entire show, while orchestras are only applauded at the end of a piece of music, Streltsov said.

Cirque de la Symphonie creates a relaxed atmosphere somewhere between the two, he said.

“The moment the first performer steps on stage, the audience gets into the confusion because they want to clap, but they cannot clap, because in the symphony, usually you don’t clap until the piece is over,” Streltsov said.

“That lasts about halfway through the first piece,” Allen said.

The idea to fuse a live orchestra with cirque performance first occurred to Allen in the ‘90s, when he was in Russia working with circus programs to bring performers to the U.S.

It was during this time period that Allen met Streltsov, whom he would eventually help to become an established cirque artist in the U.S.

This would lead to Streltsov’s first performance as an aerialist with an orchestra in 1998 with the Cincinnati Pops. After a number of similar performances over the next seven years, the duo decided to incorporate Cirque de la Symphonie as a business in 2005.

In the years since it began, it has steadily attracted a new, wider audience to see orchestras, Allen said. A lot of young adults have been in attendance, which is exactly the group the orchestras need to be bringing in, he said.

“I like orchestras and classical music put to modern settings,” said Sam Getz, a fourth-year in psychology and former member of an orchestra, “using a classical orchestra, traditional type of music, and giving it a twist or a new vibe to it.”

The performance at the Ohio Theatre will be a return to Columbus for Cirque de la Symphonie, but there will be a new program of acts with different music, Allen said.

“There is something for everybody in the program,” Allen said. “Their biggest challenge will be to pick their jaw up off the floor.”

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