A magnificently toned body soars overhead attached to red silk cloths that flare out like wings while the Philadelphia Orchestra plays a Tchaikovsky Waltz from Swan Lake.
A man dangles suspended overhead holding on to a large circle only by his feet. A woman sparkling in white does contortions while standing on two stools. A juggler juggles, a woman changes costumes in seconds within a silken tube, two muscular men perform an impossible balancing act, a man does impossible things with only a rope.
I should be loving this, but I’m not. I’m fascinated. I can’t look, but I can’t look away. The audience applauds, cheering them on. And I’m closing my eyes because I can’t stand the tension. This is the Philadelphia Orchestra Cirque de la Symphonie program at the Kimmel Center. The Orchestra, conducted by associate conductor Cristian Mǎcelaru, plays short pieces to accompany the acts. Mǎcelaru, dressed in a red shirt and black vest, jokes with the performers, makes occasional comments, and touches his hair a lot.
I’m aware that I’ve just taken a pill to ease the pain in my back and leg and meanwhile there are all these people doing things that I could never even contemplate on a good day. Their feet touch their heads, they support each other by counterbalancing their weight, they do handstands on one arm, they fearlessly soar overhead, and they keep on smiling. It’s Cirque de Soleil without the lighting and special effects, so we’re very aware of the muscles it takes to perform these feats while making it seem effortless.
It occurs to me that I have never like the circus. I didn’t like the clowns. They were loud and silly and never made me laugh. I didn’t like the acrobats, I was terrified that they wouldn’t grasp the bar or each other and would fall and get hurt. Ditto the bareback riders and the lion tamers and all the other feats of wonder that make a circus a circus.
What these performers can do is nothing short of marvelous, but I realize I want security in my entertainment. Just as I seek out a good story when I go to see a movie or show instead of violence and special effects, so I want to be comfortable when watching a performance instead of fearful of how this will all turn out. It’s amazing what the human body can do, and whatever it is, there are people who will be doing it - sometimes, just to prove they can.
So for those who love watching daredevils leap off of cliffs, this is a great show for you. For us less intrepid types, perhaps just some good music and a melody will do.