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Cirque du Soleil’s ‘Saltimbanco’ Arrives in New York

April 6, 1993

NEW YORK (AP) _ Certain creatures were born to fly. Birds. Superman. Mary Martin in ″Peter Pan.″ Add to that list the folks of Cirque du Soleil who have no trouble at all defying the laws of gravity.

For those of us who faced high school gym classes with dread and today have trouble negotiating even the curb of a sidewalk, these circus performers are an awesome bunch. Awesome and perpetually airborne.

I can’t swear to it, but I know these graceful people are from another planet where they grow wings. How else to explain their soaring flights under the blue-and-yellow Big Top that looks like a medieval castle erected at the tip of Manhattan in Battery Park City.

Their latest show is a bit of stratospheric sorcery called ″Saltimbanco,″ Italian for ″skilled street performer.″ And what a collection of performers have creator Gilles Ste-Croix and director Franco Dragone assembled for their latest Cirque du Soleil adventure.

Try to watch the Steben sisters, 18-year-old twin trapeze artists who delight in daring fate as they swing precariously to the top of the Big Top at breakneck speed. It’s definitely sweaty-palms time.

Or Paulo and Marco Lorador, two beefcake brothers from Portugal, who between them could probably lift the Empire State Building AND Arnold Schwarzenegger. Paulo, using only the back of his calves, lifts Marco in an amazing feat of contortionism and strength. Hasta la vista, Arnold.

Equally elastic are the Tchelnokovs, a husband, wife and son team whose bodies must be made of rubber. Miguel Herrera juggles white balls so fast that they become whirling spheres of light. And Jingmin Wang does a double tightrope walk, jumping from one tightrope to another, and then does it all over again on a unicycle.

Then there’s an act called the Russian Swing. Acrobats rock back and forth on what looks like an old-fashioned wooden swing and then catapult into space. They look as if they have been shot out of a cannon.

Gymnasts, resembling twirling ribbons of color, scamper up and down four large poles and also leap from pole to pole. And a quartet of trapeze artists, using elastic straps as ropes, careen through the air at the oddest of angles.

Clown Rene Bazinet, a skilled pantomimist and a funny man supreme, has no trouble pulling audience members on stage and showing them off to good advantage. His hijinks work much better under the Big Top than does the similar tomfoolery of David Shiner, a Cirque du Soleil alum, in ″Fool Moon,″ currently playing in a much more formal setting on Broadway.

Adventure is the right word for Cirque du Soleil because the troupe has reinvented what most people think of as the circus. This Canadian company has taken the circus out of the three-ring format, performing in a single space. There are no animals, but the circus has added a lot of glitz - and a touch of irreverence - to make the entertainment accessible for the MTV generation.

The rock music is deafening New-Age theatrical; the colorful costumes and special effects are out of Las Vegas and Mars by way of your local Renaissance Faire. Yet the loudness and color add to the festivity of the evening.

Purists may sniff but Cirque du Soleil, in its own way, is very traditional. It preserves the sense of wonder and excitement that the best circuses offer. And it showcases a glorious troupe of performers who just can’t keep their feet on the ground. May these high-flyers never come back to Earth.

″Saltimbanco″ will be in New York through June 6. Other stops on its 1993 North American tour include Toronto, Chicago, Boston, Washington and Atlanta.

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