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Fine feats, old-fashioned fun

By Debora Shaulis

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Even the youngest performers demonstrate discipline, precision and calmness.
YOUNGSTOWN -- Fans of old-fashioned circus fun and "Fear Factor" stunts will find something to like about Le Grand Cirque.
The 90-minute show begins with colorfully clad dancers shrouded in theatrical fog and ends with a shower of red, white and blue confetti.
Its constants are a rubber-limbed gent who offers clownish humor and a classical music soundtrack with an updated, driving beat.
There are moments when the theatrical side of the show pales in comparison with the more famous Cirque du Soleil, but it doesn't really matter. No spangled costume nor fancy choreography will ever outshine the dozens of acrobats, jugglers and performers whose feats demonstrate the strength and beauty of the human body.
If Le Grand Cirque is missing anything, it's the electricity of a full house. About 1,000 people attended the opening-night show Friday at Chevrolet Centre downtown, but there's room for thousands more.
Tens of thousands of people have seen Le Grand Cirque at Broadway on the Beach in Myrtle Beach, S.C., which is this British's show's home base in the United States.
Producers of the Irish dancing show called Spirit of the Dance also are responsible for Le Grand Cirque. They recruited performers from China, Russia and Europe. Some of them may be young enough to be playing in a local T-ball league, but they are serious, focused entertainers.
It takes training, discipline, deliberate movement, a calm attitude and precision to accomplish what Le Grand Cirque's performers achieve.
Perhaps you've heard of Flying By Foy, the company that developed a pendulum system to help actors fly across stages in shows such as "Peter Pan." Le Grand Cirque achieves the same effect with strips of cloth that dangle from above the stage. A male performer wraps the cloth around his arms, then relies on his upper body strength to support himself and a young female. She dangles and twirls by her neck as he clenches a piece of her collar in his mouth.
It's interesting to watch another female work a hula hoop upward from her waist to her ponytail. Then two of her peers begin to throw additional hoops at her, as if it's a game of human ring toss. Before it ends, the featured performer keeps 60 hoops spinning around her at once.
There are no bicycles built for two in the show, but 13 performers manage to ride one bike at once, fanning out in an artistic pose for a few brief, but memorable seconds.
Black lights
Act Two begins with a neat black-light segment that showcases all of Le Grand Cirque's elements.
One performer is at center stage, on her back, using her feet to spin an oversize cube. Another female is behind her, performing spinning stunts from a rope, while dancers in neon-and-black jumpsuits move to achieve optical illusions.
If you've ever doubted the authenticity of the old-fashioned plate spinning trick, get seats on the Chevy Centre's floor so you can see the rotation of the plates while performers climb on one another's shoulders. The segment is set to an instrumental version of "Over the Rainbow," with the plates and dancers in the background mimicking the flickering wings of butterflies in flight.
Le Grand Cirque is suitable for all ages and cool enough for even jaded teens to enjoy.
Remaining shows are at 2 and 7:30 p.m. today and 2 p.m. Sunday. For ticket information, call (866) 443-8849 or log on to