Acrobats, clowns and jugglers, oh my! The Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra wrapped up its Pops series Friday night with its high-flying finale Cirque Musica, a three-ring circus promising thrills, chills and near death-defying spills.
The hybrid-production led by outgoing resident conductor Richard Lee blends circus acts from around the world with symphonic music.
The concept is not exactly new, with Canada's pride and joy, Cirque du Soleil long offering classically driven shows featuring original music by acclaimed Quebecois composer René Dupéré.
After a sprightly Entry of the Gladiators, the quintessential theme for many a circus, MC Matt Roben, dressed in a white cowboy suit la Hank Williams, took the stage to get the show on the road. Featuring an international cast of seven, including: Rietta 'Lyric Wallenda' Arestov; Simon Arestov; Angelo Iodice; Ekaterina Sknarina; Christian Stoinev; Evgeny Vasilenko; and Ashley Winn, the first act featured one of the troupe's lithe men balancing impossibly atop several metal cylinders accompanied by Flight of the Bumblebee, and appropriately enough, Offenbach's Can-Can.
This was the first act to elicit audible gasps from the mixed generational audience.
The spike-haired, white-faced Roben served both as host and kooky clown, immediately engaging the crowd who lapped up every one of his corny jokes and gob-smacked, gaping reactions to the individual artists.
The numbers that proved most effective were the ones best integrated with the orchestra.
For example, one of the women twirling multiple hula-hoops around her body to The Sorcerer's Apprentice escalates both in tempo and dramatic force, with Roben mugging, and delivering more hoops to add to her arsenal.
A cowboy complete with black Stetson and chaps also showed us the magic of lasso, set to Copland's Hoe Down from his masterful ballet Rodeo, essentially, and visually, capturing the spirit of the work itself.
The well-paced show also included contortionists and jugglers, aerial dance and tightrope demonstrations with each sequined performer a seasoned pro.
Still, hearing an extended combustion of John Williams' Star Wars and Superman theme songs performed by the orchestra, sans circus artists, only felt anticlimactic, despite a lively light show projected on the upstage wall. The amplified orchestra also, at times, became overly loud with the strings shrill and brass bleating.
And frankly, anyone who has ever experienced the poetry and power of Cirque du Soleil, before its many Sin City incarnations, or even the local Chinese New Year's Celebration that astounds every year with its guest acrobats has already been spoiled.
Despite its undeniable, slickly produced entertainment appeal, Cirque Musica is ultimately a show of tricks. But perhaps the best trick of all will be whether or not the enthusiastic 2,131 audience members, many whom are suspected never to have been to a WSO concert before, will return next fall as the new season begins.
The concert repeats tonight, 8 p.m. and Sunday afternoon, 2 p.m. at the Centennial Concert Hall.