Spellbinding show takes breath away

2011-03-12 11:22

No tricks, no smoke and ­mirrors – Saltimbanco, one of Cirque du Soleil’s 21 shows worldwide – is a flabbergasting display of the myriad feats the human body can perform.

After the first couple of acts I was out of superlatives and resorted to silent, slack-jawed amazement. Sure this is a circus, but banish thoughts of dog-eared big tops, whip-wielding ringmasters in tired velvet tails and poor animals throwing their dignity away for a gasp.

The circus has evolved thanks to the vision of Cirque du Soleil’s founders – a group of French Canadian street performers back in 1984. Now the company employs 5 000 people worldwide representing 50-odd countries and in Las Vegas alone there are seven different shows on.

Saltimbanco, one of the company’s dozen touring companies, is set in a world of wonder, colour and magic. The company of 51, including a live five-piece band, start the show with a display of colour and form. In candy-striped lycra they cavort and cartwheel onto the circular stage.

The opening act is a trio of acrobats who used up almost all of my aforementioned superlatives, by the time the four Chinese poles had 12 men shinning up and down them and the fellow on the bicycle had executed a series of eye-popping manoeuvres, I had assumed the slack-jawed position. The girl on the high swing made my heart stop several times and the boleadoras (Spanish balls) twirlers’ percussive performance is mesmerising as the pair whip the cords, with weights attached, faster and faster until every pulse in the Dome had quickened. Apart from the incredible athleticism and the focused commitment that the individual acts show, what makes Saltimbanco more than a series of daring feats is the integrated whole. Set in a dream-like village, the band puts a beat to the action while the company of clowns fill in the backdrop.

South Africa’s own Daniel Buckland threads it all together as The Dreamer, using his mime and physical theatre training well. A fantastical blend of mime, dance, acrobatics, physical theatre and agility, this is an ensemble piece and everybody is well-rehearsed. Make sure you buy a ticket for this spectacle.

» Cirque du Soleil: Saltimbanco is at the Coca-Cola Dome, Joburg until March 20 and at Grand Arena Grandwest Casino, Cape Town, March 23 to April 3. Book at Computicket.

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