Hoppe on the Arts: Cirque du Soleil 

Just got back from watching Cirque du Soleil rehearsing for their opening night at Conseco Fieldhouse. The show on tour, Saltimbanco, has been in production since 1992, when it was a Cirque tent show. Now it's been reconfigured for arenas.

It looks promising in the fieldhouse space. Artistic Director Adam Miller tells me this is one of the company's more intimate offerings; it's not as reliant on high tech and special effects. More circus, in other words, than cirque.

Of course, a key question about Cirque regards the secret of its success. A couple of years ago, when the Arts Council commissioned a study to find out what young adults want in an arts experience, a common answer was "Cirque du Soleil!" -- or something like it.

So what does Cirque have that others either lack or covet?

Live music for a start. Dance companies please take note. Saltimbanco carries a four-piece band with a couple of vocalists. Then there's the athleticism. I'm watching three guys effortlessly form a pillar of flesh and bone standing on one another's shoulders. Then a woman uses a Russian swing to throw herself over and onto the hands of the top guy who then launches her into space. She glides down, into the arms of a catcher, who gives her a kiss on the cheek.

Yes, a lot of us have dreams of being able to fly... That, too.

Ultimately, though, I think that Cirque's fusion of dance, music, theatricality and circus skills, not to mention audacious stagecraft, has found the sweet spot in our post literary culture. Cirque's mission statement reads thus: "...to invoke the imagination, provoke the senses and evoke the emotions of people around the world."

Adam Miller, a former ballet dancer, said this show comes with a 50-page bible that expostulates the conceptual framework underlying Saltimbanco, which the program notes describe as being inspired "by the urban fabric of the metropolis and its colourful inhabitants." As if any of us are going to encounter anyone like the characters we see in the show tonight on Ohio St.

This will be my fourth Cirque show. While Id be hard-pressed in a couple of cases to tell you what the shows were "about," I remember all of them. This suggests to me that something besides spectacle is taking place.

What is certain is that it's something that has to be experienced live.

Saltimbanco plays through this weekend at Conseco Fieldhouse. Call 800-745-3000 for tickets.

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David Hoppe

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