‘Cirque Ingenieux’ Ventures a Step Further Into Theater


In the tradition of the European cirque, which is a circus with a theatrical twist, the multidimensional, multilingual “Cirque Ingenieux” makes its way to the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts on Tuesday. Though the cirque style of live performance has roots overseas, in the last decade especially it has found a niche in the United States via the well-known Canadian-born act Cirque du Soleil.

For the development of “Cirque Ingenieux,” creator Neil Goldberg put together a team of professionals with resumes as varied as their talents. From Golden Globe winner and Grammy-nominated Kitaro composing the show’s New Age-style score, to set designer Jerome Sirlin’s experience designing both Madonna concert tours and Wagner’s “Ring” cycle, “Cirque Ingenieux” is unusual both onstage and behind the scenes. The team of eight professionals, cast of 15 performers and numerous “imaginaires” (supporting cast members) and musicians had their debut in Dallas last August, and have since traveled to the East Coast and back again, managing to sell out thousand-seat venues along the way.

“I’m constantly developing,” Goldberg said in a recent phone conversation, surprisingly relaxed just one day after returning from South America. At the trendy Conrad Resort and Hotel in Puenta del Este, Uruguay, he has recently installed a new show simply titled “Cirque” under his self-started company, Cirque Inc. “I work with artists on a year-round basis. I’m always developing new skills and new techniques, always trying to keep people on the edge of their seats.”


Goldberg, like his crew, has had his share of varied professional experience, mainly in large-scale entertainment event planning--from Miss Universe pageants to Super Bowls, and now, the circus. He founded Cirque Inc. in 1993, began developing “Cirque Ingenieux” in April 1995, and the event is now booked solid through April.

“Cirque Ingenieux” follows the Cirque du Soleil tradition in featuring contortionists, strongmen and other standards of one-ring European circuses, as opposed to the traditional three-ring American show. But even among the network of European and Canadian cirques, there are striking differences that set the various performances apart, as “Cirque Ingenieux” director Joe Leonardo explains.

“The unusual thing about this circus is that it’s in a theater,” he says of “Cirque Ingenieux.” “One of the major things that makes us so much different is that it really is designed to be seen as a theater piece.”


The story of “Cirque Ingenieux” follows the mystical journey of Sarah, a 12-year-old Russian girl who is swept away into an imaginary dreamland after watching an awe-inspiring young trapeze artist’s performance at the circus one night. From there, Sarah and her brother Alex lose and find each other amid the parades of jugglers, magicians, enchantresses and the like, finally reuniting in the sky, flying in unison as the complete cast closes the performance below.

Though Leonardo admits that the story is hardly complex, the fact that a narrative exists at all is what sets “Cirque Ingenieux” apart from other performances in the genre. Act Choreographer Catherine Archambault, who has worked with more than 50 circus acts including Cirque du Soleil, has witnessed the competition between the cirques firsthand. “I hate the wars between [the various cirques], but it happens and it’s normal. Cirque du Soleil initiated such a great big fantastic thing; of course people like it, and it’s an honor that people are taking their ideas. I think that from there interesting things emerge,” she says.

Goldberg believes that the theater setting gives “Cirque Ingenieux” an advantage over other circuses of its kind. “Being in a theater environment has given us the opportunity to take advantage of theatrical aspects that could never be done in a tent,” he says, including aspects such as the scenery and lights, and seating audiences more comfortably in theater seats than big-top benches.


Of course, successfully producing a circus is no picnic. Leonardo says that he rarely strays from classics and musicals in his directing position at Temple University, and had to quickly adjust to circus protocol for “Cirque Ingenieux”--not just working with contortionists and trapeze artists for the first time, but working with Mongolian contortionists and Russian trapeze artists, none of whom spoke fluent English. “One nice thing for a lot of these artists is that they’ve had the opportunity to spend time here and improve their English,” he says.

In addition, both Leonardo and Goldberg had to adjust to the strict exercise schedules of the active performers. Acrobatic warmups and cool-downs are more demanding than the everyday hair and makeup routine of typical theater productions the pair are accustomed to. “It really was a learning experience,” Leonardo says. “I’d seen circuses before, and you think you know the attention that it takes, but the trick was really learning how much that have to do for preparation and warmup, and continuing in that way.

“I think it’s good for us to keep learning.”

* “Cirque Ingenieux,” Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts, 12700 Center Court Drive, Cerritos, Tuesday through Sunday, 7 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, 2 p.m. $30, $35, $40 and $45. (562) 916-8510. Running time: 2 hours with one 15-minute intermission.