What is left once you’ve seen over ten productions from the entertainment phenomenon Cirque du Soleil — productions filled with beauty, humanity and thrills galore? What is left to surprise, to enthrall, particularly from Cirque’s longest running show, Saltimbanco?
A first time viewer at the Petersen Events Center would still get a colorful night at the Petersen Events, with the nifty transitions for which Cirque is famous. For the experienced audience member, Saltimbanco symbolized just what started it all, what so many people grew to love about the Montreal-based company.
Saltimbanco literally comes from the Italian phrase “to jump on a bench.” It conveys an urban world, suggestive of a city and the melting pot of people it attracts (it is a show celebrating diversity and was ahead of its time in 1992). But rather than a gray city skyline, there is a floor covered in bright pastel flowers, populated by colorful clown-like figures, each delightfully individual — you could spend the entire night studying the facial make-up if you’re lucky enough to sit close enough.
Which brings up one of Cirque’s most popular features — the audience interaction. No matter what show you see, one or more clowns, all expert at picking a willing partner in comic crime.
This show featured “Eddie,” strangely reminiscent of PeeWee Herman and delectably played by Martin Pons. There is no official language at these shows, aside from a French introduction with English translations, the better to travel internationally and list the sponsors. But Pons had a considerable vocabulary his own — you might call it expanded and amplified baby sounds — that needed no translation.
Certainly his second act setting with his male audience partner was a highlight. The Western motif had a swagger and some gun play, with that nameless partner occasionally adding to the action.
There were family values in the opening Adagio, with a mother and father (Pittsburgh native Corey Hartung and Dmitri Shvidki) and a child (Valeriia Chyzhevska) ,who began the night’s journey.
Actually she became a man and switched characters, then switched back (you had to follow the red baseball cap). But then, there were many delicious connections to find throughout, such as a tuneful musical score that was lyrically lovely or filled with hot jazz or alluded to Gloria Estefan’s “Conga.” Or the subtext of relationships among the various characters.
Of course the circus acts were all highly skilled and disciplined and had plenty of variety, from the Chinese Poles to juggling, hand-to-hand balancing and Spanish-inspired Boleadoras with its flamenco rhythms.
But among my favorites were Sarah << Haven >> Heffner, who risked it all as she nonchalantly flipped upside down in her trapeze routine.The Russian Swing appears in other shows, but this time it aimed its high-flying artists out to the front, emphasizing the altitude. The bungee act, though, was probably the best choreographed of the night. Dressed in white, a quartet of performers timed their high bounding maneuvers just perfectly.
Call Saltimbanco a delicious sherbet among the Cirque shows — cool, colorful and yummy. And when it ends in Montreal this December, I guess we’ll be looking out for the latest production, Amaluna.
Through Sun. Oct. 21 — see Listings.