When Classical Music Meets the Circus


The Pacific Symphony isn't running away, but it is joining the circus.

When Cirque Eloize presents the U.S. premiere of "Cirque Orchestra" at the Irvine Barclay Theatre on Wednesday, the symphony will perform live on stage in a 70-minute show that combines dance, music and gravity-defying acrobatics.

Members of the symphony, under the baton of assistant conductor Mark Mandarano, will sit center stage, performing music ranging from Rimsky-Korsakov and Chabrier to Tchaikovsky, Sibelius and Rachmaninoff.

The event marks the first collaboration between the Barclay and Pacific Symphony Orchestra.

"The Pacific Symphony is thrilled to collaborate with both Cirque Eloize and the Barclay," said Pacific Symphony President John Forsyte. "We are convinced that a new audience will be exposed to symphonic music through this unusual presentation."

The narrative is told solely through movement and music, so the ensemble plays a key part in the drama, says Cirque's artistic director Jeannot Painchaud, leader of the Quebec, Canada-based troupe.

The plot revolves around a comedic character--a musician who's something of a rebel. When he wanders away from the orchestra, distracted by something floating above him, he's slowly drawn into a fantastic world peopled by white-costumed beings. As he watches them soar, he dreams of experiencing the joy of flight himself.

Choreographed by Johanne Madore and director Alain Francoeur, "Cirque Orchestra" interweaves the lyricism of dance with the strength and flexibility of gymnastics. Performances range from gymnasts on aerial rings to contortionists, trapeze artists and balancing acts.

Blending the athletics of the circus with the finesse of classical music and dance was a challenge, Painchaud said. "What was most difficult was to have them dance the whole show in addition to performing their own acts; it's very physically demanding," he said, pointing out that only two of the 15 performers are trained dancers. "But we found that you can do much more when you mix acrobats with dancers. There are new movements we could explore because of it."

In one scene, an acrobat suspended upside down on a rope dances with another performer moving about on the floor.

There is also a "flying tissue" act, in which a performer uses fabric to make geometric shapes and lines in the air, dramatically unfurling sheets behind him like butterfly wings.

"Dance is an integral part of the concept for 'Cirque Orchestra,"' Painchaud said. "Because there are no words, the body becomes the language. We chose the movements to express the emotions of the music--its joy, its wildness, its drama."

"I think we ended up with something really special and unique," said Painchaud.

Cirque Eloize was founded nine years ago. The European-style, animal-free circus--whose name means "flash of lightning"--was started by Painchaud with a childhood gymnastics buddy when the two graduated from Montreal's National Circus School. They invited five other friends from their hometown in the Magdalen Islands, off the coast of Quebec, to join them, and Cirque Eloize was born.

Cirque Eloize has toured worldwide, giving more than 800 performances, including two previous visits to the Barclay with a show titled "Excentricus" in 1998 and 1999. "Cirque Orchestra" premiered at the 1999 Festival International de Lanaudiere near Montreal and began its world tour last spring.

Based on the idea of risking it all for a dream, "Cirque Orchestra," is something of a metaphor for Cirque Eloize itself, Painchaud said. "It's all related to faith--this conductor in the orchestra sees something in the air that he would like to try, and thinks, 'Wow, it would be great to do that.' It just seems that when you believe in something, it can happen."


"Cirque Orchestra" at the Irvine Barclay Theatre, 4242 Campus Drive, Irvine, Thursday-Friday, 8 p.m.; Saturday, 2 and 8 p.m.; Sunday, 2 p.m. For tickets, call Pacific Symphony (714) 755-5799, the Barclay (949) 854-4646 or Ticketmaster (714) 740-7878 or go to http://www.pacificsymphony.org or http://www.thebarclay.org. "Cirque Orchestra" will also be performed at Navy Pier in San Diego Aug. 10-11. (619) 231-1748.

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