Just like the latest trends, it takes a little while for things to come to Pittsburgh. In that vein, the Steel City didn’t latch onto the Cirque craze until 2002, when that Montreal juggernaut, Cirque du Soleil, finally broke the ice. Now we can’t seem to get enough.
With the onset of Cirque du Soleil, the nature of the circus was forever changed, so much so that these days almost everything is Cirque-ular. Gone are the animals, replaced by exotic themes, singers, original scores, real choreography and fantastical set designs.
The original experience was created in the early ’80’s, cast in the form of a Salvador Dali production, surreal and mysterious, a decidedly European concoction brewed in that most French of all North American cities, Montreal. It evolved from a custom-designed tent, called a Grand Chapiteau, to star in Vegas and cirque-ulate in arenas.
Cirque Dreams tossed its hat into the ring in the early ’90’s and claimed Broadway, symphonic halls, corporate events and Atlantic City. We have seen its production of Illuminations, a classical Cirque de la Symphonie (at the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra) and a several Cirque du Soleil shows since 2002 . They have all proven to be popular with Pittsburghers, whetting the appetite for more.
On Tuesday night, Cirque Dreams brought the Broadway-style “Holidaze” to bedazzle the Heinz Hall audiences, inviting comparisons between the Montreal parent and this American offshoot. As it turned out, Cirque Dreams: Holidaze was the family-friendly version, full of bright colors and glitter. It had a tour-friendly set, with collapsible Christmas trees and inflatable giant candy canes crowding the stage.
Maybe “Holidaze” didn’t quite have the budget of Cirque du Soleil. Nor did it have the same disciplined direction. It’s like the “Holidaze” producers didn’t trust its talent to hold center stage. So snowmen or cyclists or bouncing trees often traveled around the stage, diverting the audience’s attention. It was like a three-ring circus condensed into one.
Still the strength of this production came from the performers. They didn’t have the benefit of smooth, taut choreography, except for Dmytro Deneko (“Scrooge” and “Angel”), as elegant a circus artist as there is with his beautiful lines as he swirled through straps or large swaths of fabric. He was like the present that keeps on giving, wrapping and unwrapping himself with a breathtaking ease.
The other acts had a more traditional display of tricks, although they had plenty of skill and more than a few surprises in store for the eager Heinz Hall audience. The Dream Engineer slid up and down from a split on the floor. Gingerbread cookies, one adult male and one child, totally flipped out. They were from Ethiopa, a relatively new player on the cirque circuit. As it turned out, the African country also produced the Lumberjack, a juggler and one of the few around who can juggle nine small snowballs in a blizzard of activity.
The performance unfolded from a tree laden with ornaments. Likewise the acts unfolded in all shapes and sizes — a toy soldier who juggled on a slack wire, a nifty jumping rope routine (Skipping Elves), a tiny, pretty-in-pink Santa’s Helper who could be lifted horizontally from the floor by one hand, a clown who rang our bells with his interactive audience routine, a group of Chinese women who seemed to do it all — twirl Baubles, ride bicycles and fill in the ensemble routines.
There was also a local accent amid all the Christmas finery. Point Park University’s Ellen Henry spun her way through the characters like a sprightly music box dancer, spending her holidays in a real “Holidaze.”
“Holidaze” runs through Dec. 26 — see Listings for more information.