IF YOU GO:
What: Cirque de la Symphonie with the Youngstown Symphony Orchestra
When: 8 p.m. Saturday
Where: Powers Auditorium, 260 W. Federal St., Youngstown
By GUY D’ASTOLFO
Bill Allen had a notion that the artistry of cirque performance would merge well with a symphony orchestra.
And he was right.
His Cirque de la Symphonie has been packing in audiences at concert halls across North America at a time when ticket sales are stagnant at best. The show makes its local debut Saturday with the Youngstown Symphony Orchestra at Powers Auditorium.
Like peanut butter and chocolate, Cirque de la Symphonie is an equation in which the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
Basically, a half-dozen cirque-style performers (think Cirque du Soleil) do their act onstage — for the aerialist, above the stage — while the orchestra plays specially selected classical pieces.
Included are a strength-and-balance duo, a hoops act, a juggler, an acrobat, an aerialist and a German Wheel act.
Allen put the show together several years ago, and rapidly morphed it into a crowd-pleaser that is very much in demand by orchestras across North America.
The idea for Cirque de la Symphonie had its first glimmer in the mid-’90s. That’s when Allen, an entertainment talent- procurer and impressario, had a discussion with a technical director of the Moscow Circus about blending classical music with the circus. Allen has made many trips to Russia — where circus training is serious business — to find acts to bring back to the states.
The idea came to fruition in Cincinnati in 1998, when Allen, with the help of Russian aerialist Alexander Streltsov, rigged a trapeze over a concert hall during a performance by the Cincinnati Pops.
“The rest is history,” said Allen in an interview with The Vindicator. “It turned into a program by 2005. If you do something right, something that works, people will ask you to do it.” Cirque de la Symphonie, he noted, is booked well into 2012.
Allen stressed that the show is all about the music, as performed by the local orchestra in whatever city he is in. He selected the music for the program based on what pairs best with the cirque performances.
“The music is a collection of masterpieces that people are very familiar with,” said Allen, who noted that the order of the music is almost as important as the selections. “It has a lot of upbeat tempo for juggling. ... If you were just a person walking in, this music would make you feel good.”
The Cirque performers rehearse with the orchestra just one time in each city, he said.
Each piece of music features a different Cirque performer doing his or her act in front of — or above — the orchestra. “Most [musicians] have never seen this going on at the same time they are playing,” said Allen.
The net effect is something new and unique.
“The orchestra is not just accompanying what we are doing,” said Allen. “If we do it right, it fuses the two art forms.”
Lighting is used to present a contrast between musician and circus performer, but that’s as far as the staging goes. “We don’t have big props and background displays,” said Allen. “The orchestra is part of the scenario, one big live prop.”