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Cirque de la Symphonie returns to Spokane

October 12, 2018

Saturday night, the Spokane Symphony Orchestra and resident conductor Morihiko Nakahara will be joined by the Cirque de la Symphonie on a musical gymnastic journey through Russian composition.

The cirque last visited the area in 2009 when they performed with Nakahara and the SSO at INB Performing Arts Center, now called the First Interstate Center for the Arts.

The Fox is smaller than the INB but “it’s also more intimate which is just perfect for us. And I’m sure the orchestra will sound even better,” said Alexander Streltsov, president and managing director of CDLS. Streltsov said that after accounting for cirque performers’ safety they try hard to make any concessions possible so that the orchestral sound is the best it can possibly be. The musical program includes works by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Igor Stravinsky, Sergei Rachmaninoff and other Russian greats.

“We love this program because the repertoire is just so symphonic,” Nakahara said. “The Polovtsian Dances, Capriccio espagnol, Russlan and Ludmilla, it’s all staples of the symphonic repertoire … and to add that movement element is just really special, adds an extra dimension to it.”

While he’s busy conducting, standing with his back to the audience and the cirque, Nakahara will be the only person in the theater to, in a sense, miss the whole show. The symphony will be set up at the back of stage, with the cirque performers out front.

“I wish I could see it,” he said. “I can only imagine how spectacular it’s going to look especially at the Fox.”

But admittedly his relation to the cirque’s performance style goes a little beyond mere imagination.

“It’s done in the spirit of trying to capture the music rather than some sort of arbitrary movement … in some ways conducting is similar in that part of the job of a conductor is to physically capture the essence of the music and this is what these people do for a living.”

Nakahara will be able to see at least a snippet of the cirque while he takes part in a comedy-magic act. Because really, what is a conductor’s baton other than a magic wand for non-magic folk?

The cirque performers are very conscious of sharing the stage with the orchestra. Streltsov said the cirque would never try to reduce the music to mere accompaniment. For that reason you’ll always see the orchestra on stage.

But, keeping orchestra out of the pit and up on stage with performers at the Fox only leaves about 15 to 18 feet of space for the cirque routines. That’s pretty tight.

Some of the more risky and space consuming acts you might see in a traditional circus are just not doable on concert hall stages. But the acts these performers pull off even in these limited spaces are on another level, usually in more than one sense. Choreography and proper preparation make the space limit a non-issue.

In the aerial silk and rope routines, Christine Van Loo and Maximiliano Torandell fly over the large orchestra and, to some extent, the audience. Vladimir and Elena Tsarkov will perform a variety of charming clown, quick change and contortion routines to be followed by the much anticipated strongmen duo, Vitaliy Prikhodko and Pavel Korshunov.

“The music selection by itself is already an amazing program to listen to without even the cirque element,” Streltsov said. “Adding the cirque element just makes it twice as entertaining and interesting. It’s a very successful combination.”

When CDLS originally formed in 2005 they thought combining cirque and symphony would just be another fun form of fine art entertainment. Since then they’ve found that it serves another purpose entirely.

“We quickly realised that we’re actually doing something more than just a unique concert for the symphony,” Streltsov said. “What we’re doing is recruiting younger generations for the symphony world. And that I think is very important because the symphony world has their hands full competing with the whole range of 21st century entertainment. That is very difficult competition.”

Their hope is that people of all age groups will come for the cirque and stay for the music.

“As long as it’s doing something useful for the symphony world I’m very happy about that,” Streltsov explained.

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