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An audience favorite returned to the North Carolina Symphony when Cirque de la Symphonie joined forces with orchestra under the baton of associate conductor Wesley Schulz for the first of three presentations of Cirque de Noel.
The NCS initiated the brisk two-hour program with their strongest offering of the evening. Weaving together robust arrangements of Christmas classics such as "Joy to the World," "Hark the Herald Angels Sing," and "O Come All Ye Faithful," Leroy Anderson's A Christmas Festival set the tone and the expectation of excellence for the rest of the evening.
Angela Kim established Cirque de la Symphonie's presence with a mesmerizing routine on aerial silks as the equally elegant melody of "Ave Maria" swelled from the strings below her. From a design standpoint, her sensual black bodysuit would have been a costume better suited to a cabaret-themed piece than a Schubert classic; Kim's angelic white costume seen in the second act would have better complimented this routine.
With the exception of the isolated discrepancy between costume and music, balance was the name of the game for the rest of the evening – literally and thematically. Beyond challenging acrobatic feats and musical selections, the North Carolina Symphony tested their audience to attend to what could have been easily competing sensory experiences. However, with exceptionally balanced programming, for every moment that Cirque made you look, the orchestra made you listen.
Vladimir Tsarkov's outstanding juggling performance, accompanied by Leon Jessel's "Parade of the Wooden Soldiers," was truly a juggling-contortion-comedy performance and a visual delight. Tsarkov's arachnid physicality would have been perfectly suited to the subsequent number "Tarantella," but Aleksandr Deev's enormous spinning cube was nonetheless captivating too, paired with the upbeat Ottorino Respighi composition.
The orchestra then took a turn in the spotlight with the challenging rhythms of another Leroy Anderson favorite, "Sleigh Ride."
The North Carolina Symphony and Cirque de la Symphonie finished Act I with well-rounded musical offerings of popular selections from Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker and circus feats including Alina Sergeeva's hula hoops and Stuart McKenzie's high-flying aerial strap performance.
Act II saw each Cirque performer return to the stage, often with a different specialty than they displayed in Act I. Sergeeva and Tsarkov kicked things off with a quick-change routine sporting no less than six costume changes in seconds, and Deev was nothing short of remarkable with his mastery of the cyr wheel. Kim and McKenzie returned to the silks in an aerial duo that incorporated roller skates to boot. Tsarkov reprised a juggling routine, this time with an electrified diabolo paired with "Farandole," by George Bizet, that was among the best routines of the night.
From the big band sounds of Felix Bernard's "Winter Wonderland" to compositions from Harry Potter and a movie medley including music from Miracle on 34th Street, Home Alone, The Nightmare before Christmas, and How the Grinch Stole Christmas, the North Carolina Symphony's stand-alone pieces offered something for everyone. In the culmination of the evening the orchestra perfectly married the growing crescendo of instruments in Robert Wendel's "Little Bolero Boy" with a strongmen finale performance from Cirque de la Symphonie's Gabor Szivisz and Louri Sfronov. With audible gasps from the audience followed by a standing ovation, it was obvious that the finale was well-chosen.
With visual and auditory artistry, both contemporary and classical offerings, sweeping dynamics, and diverse rhythms, Cirque de Noel brought a comprehensive and unique program the North Carolina Symphony's season for the holidays. There are two more chances to catch a performance, and you'll be glad you did! See our sidebar for details.