Circus of the Sun
Cirque Du Soliel, the internationally renowned European-style circus, has set down temporary roots in Baltimore's Fells Point.
Le Grand Chapiteau (their name, not mine), the big top under which all of this high-flying magic takes place, is a swirl of yellow and blue, visible from several blocks amid the warehouses and industrial buildings of the Inner Harbor.
My wife Amy has longed to see a performance of this famous tour for years. Every few years, another version hits the road, with all new performers and a completely new eye-popping show.
Our chance came on last Friday. We had bought two tickets, spending as much as one spends to see a major Broadway show at the Kennedy Center. Our seats were just five rows from the circular, revolving stage. As a wedding anniversary present, it appears that I made a pretty good choice!
Our trip to Baltimore was marred by a terrible accident on I-70. Westbound traffic was completely stopped, and eastbound drivers were forced into two lanes due to state troopers involved in accident reconstruction.
Following a 30-minute wait to travel four miles to the New Market exit, we heard the radio announcer describe another accident eastbound on 70. As a regular I-70 traveler, I knew to jump off and take another route to I-95.
We got to Baltimore along with several thousand others; most of who were headed for Camden Yards to see the O's get beat by Colorado.
With all of the traffic problems, the 45-minute cushion I had planned got us to the front gate of the venue about five minutes after the show had started.
The seating was a semi-circle, and the pamphlet said the venue could seat 2,600 people. I didn't count many empty seats at intermission. The circular stage was backed by a forest of tall (maybe 30 feet) brass pipes, a different backdrop than I'd ever seen before.
The tension and hassles of the drive melted away with the first major act of the show. Brightly colored "floor skaters" spun and slid across the floor, while aerialists flew overhead.
Background music, played by a full band, accompanied a male and female singer/chanter, who served as a sort of musical narrator, sometimes in English, sometimes in French, with even a little Chinese and Farsi thrown in.
A clown also helped tell the story of a winged human (a la Icarus), grounded in a fantasyland populated by all sorts of interesting creatures.
Most amazing, and I mean really amazing, were the skills of the various performers. A trio of Chinese children cavorted with three ropes with weights attached to the ends, in a mix of martial arts and dance that left the audience stunned.
Another performer, a juggler with skills that defy description, shifted between pin juggling, large rubber balls, straw hats, and finally ping-pong balls in a stupefying display of dexterity.
A group of male dancers, dressed head-to-toe in red, took the stage in a stomping, rousing version of Georgian dance that had the audience clapping in unison with the beat of large kettle drums, at least when the audience members weren't breaking the beat to express their appreciation for the talented group.
A clown posing as a magician had the whole crowd laughing at his pathetic attempts to make things appear and disappear, usually in such an obvious and ludicrous fraud that even the youngest member of the crowd could see how badly he had done. His female assistant, apparently more worried about her looks than his magical act, spent a good deal of time "making time" with an unsuspecting audience member.
This same clown appeared later in a powder blue ruffled shirt and tux as a Vegas-style lounge singer. Unfortunately, the spotlight operator refused to cooperate, so the poor singer had to literally run the entire tent to keep up with his spot, breathlessly trying to sing a love song to a long-past lover in a full sprint.
Sure, there was a trapeze act. But not like any trapeze act I'd ever seen before. This was trapeze extreme, without a net. Four incredibly talented women tossed one another effortlessly through the air, with the most dangerous moves timed with the crescendo of the music.
Another unforgettable performer, the female lead character, was able to balance suspended above a small stick topped with a pad. The pad might have been the size of a paperback. From this perch, she contorted and twisted in such a manner as to elicit a groan from the lady sitting next to me.
The most amazing performance came from a group of male aerialists called the Volcano Dance. Dressed in flame red/orange tights, these guys used a set of large swings to catapult one another to the roof of the tent, some forty feet in the air. Again, no net!
All of this, and so much more as to prevent me from doing it justice, was done in a context of light, sound, color, and movement so dazzling that even the most jaded audience member was stunned at the finale. The costumes are without a doubt the most stunning and colorful I've ever seen. The performers were treated to three standing ovations, and the audience would gladly have given a fourth had the ushers not started moving folks towards the exits.
The international cast includes performers from every continent. I don't know if or when this troupe will return, although the literature mentions a permanent venue in Las Vegas. If you get the chance, treat yourself to this wonderful form of international entertainment.
Cirque Du Solieil, merci beaucoup!