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Cirque de la Symphonie Makes Chicago Debut Memorial Day Weekend




Cirque de la Symphonie collaborates with the Chicago Philharmonic for its Chicago Debut

Cirque de la Symphonie, the only cirque that performs exclusively with symphony orchestras, makes its Chicago debut at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance on Saturday of Memorial Day Weekend 2016, partnering with the Chicago Philharmonic.

Audiences around the world have become familiar with contemporary circus arts, or nouveau cirque, largely through the work of the internationally recognized company Cirque du Soleil. Cirque de la Symphonie has been bringing similar experiences to audiences around the world for 10 years, only to a symphonic soundtrack. Each year, the company performs with between 50-60 orchestras all over the world.

Bill Allen and Alexander Streltsov founded Cirque de la Symphonie after a performance they created with the Cincinnati Pops in 1996 that fused cirque performance with classical music. The show was so successful that conductors from around the country began calling up Allen and Streltsov. “We wanted to take the program to the largest orchestra in the country – in terms of the number of musicians in the orchestra – which at the time was the Houston Symphony Orchestra. We did four performances there that were all sold out, and that really opened the floodgates.”

Before Streltsov collaborated with Allen, he was accustomed to exploring cirque arts in dynamic and unexpected places. “I had done a number of performances in Russia where you have a mix of singers, dancers, cirque artists, everything – you name it. So doing this type of work in the United States was nothing new to me, but I was excited to bring it to new audiences.”

Streltsov grew up in what he describes as a “traditional circus family.”  He said, “My father was an aerialist and my mother was a tightrope walker. From day one I grew up in the circus and never missed a show. I knew the performance by heart, and I would tell them ‘This is my mom, and this is my dad, and I’m going to be like him flying someday.’”

Sure enough, Streltsov has followed in his father’s footsteps. Curiously, he’s performed in a typical arena circus only a few times in his life. The majority of his work as an aerialist has been through other collaborations. He is, for example, the only aerialist ever to perform with the Bolshoi Ballet.

With Cirque de la Symphonie, Allen said, “We wanted to bring cirque artistry to the level of other fine arts. By combining cirque performance with classical music, one plus one equals three. It’s really an amazing experience. If we do our jobs right, these two art forms are perfectly fused together.”

“We don’t bring out dancing clowns,” Allen assured. “We know people come to hear the music and hear the musicians, so we want it to be integrated and balanced.”

One of the trickiest things to balance is space. “We usually only have about 15 feet of stage space,” Streltsov explained. In addition to co-founding the company, Streltsov is one of the company’s technical directors and premier aerialists. “We have to rig in some of the most fragile music halls in the world, including some that might have just had multi-million dollar renovations.”

While circus arenas or other venues are set up to allow performers to have flexibility, both literally and metaphorically, most concert halls present challenges. “We have developed some solutions to overcome technical challenges,” Streltsov said. “In 99% of the venues where we perform, the solutions work, though every now and then we find ourselves really scratching our heads.”

“Sometimes, depending on how things are rigged, I fly out over the audience a bit. That’s really thrilling,” Streltsov said. “Still, we don’t do things that are dangerous to the audience, to the musicians, or to the other artists”

To learn more about Cirque de la Symphonie, visit its website.



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