South Africa has waited a long time for Cirque du Soleil to pitch its tent on our soil. So long that Cirque shows have become too famous, too popular and too lavish to squeeze into traditional venues. Now only the cavernous expanse of The Dome can accommodate this show and its eager wall of audience. By LESLEY STONES.
Which means one the most spectacular circus troupes in the world is playing in a truly appalling venue. Perfect for car shows – dreadful for the intimate close-up atmosphere needed to lose yourself in the magical fantasy world Cirque has created.
Everything about this troupe is over the top. The sheer number of leaping, twisting, turning, flying, dancing athletes, the zany kaleidoscope of costumes, the made-up twittering language that accompanies their actions, the exuberance of the movements, the brilliance of the leaps and the amazing designs of their painted faces.
But it’s pretty much wasted when you’re sitting so far away that your eyes are straining to see such detail. With the stink of hot dogs and chips that hangs over the audience further marring the magic.
Cirque has captured the mood of manic medieval court jesters in this show called “Saltimbanco”. It’s described as a celebration of life and drawn from “saltare in banco”, meaning “to jump on a bench” in Italian. There’s certainly tons of life and plenty of jumping, and yet, and yet….
I’d expected mesmerising feats the likes of which I’d never seen before. But for the first half nobody seemed blown away. Regular theatre-goers will have witnessed many similar acts because a circus is a circus, although it’s all beautifully packaged.
These are, perhaps, the best bunch of pole climbers you’ll see, the most inventive man on a trick bicycle, the strongest strong men and the highest of high-flyers. One highlight was a couple swinging and swirling ropes with balls attached, spinning and clacking with perfect precision. Another “aahhh” moment is the four-man trapeze act in the far more entertaining second half.
The constant music comes from a mixture of a live band and a backing track. There’s a stage full of activity with some truly awesome leaps when the acrobats arc through the air seemingly in slow motion. They’re not infallible either, and a couple of slips just remind you that it’s extraordinarily difficult – they’re just so good at making it look simple. Everything is bold, brash and glittery on the ground, sublimely graceful in the air.
Was it worth the wait? Oh yes. If you’re sitting in the first 20 rows. DM
Cirque du Soleil’s “Saltimbanco” runs at The Dome until 20 March, then at Cape Town’s Grand West Casino from 23 March to 3 April.
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