By Priscilla Issa
Just when we thought the death-defying, mind-blowing stunts and aerial acts of Circus 1903, Le Noir and The Illusionists could not get more intense, Cirque Stratosphere producers Simon Painter and Tim Lawson sent heart pulses soaring into outer space.
“Mission Control, we have take-off.” And just like that, the audience’s fascination with space and that which lies beyond earth’s atmosphere was piqued. Internationally renowned acrobatic talent captivated the hearts and minds of a full house at the Sydney Opera House.
Hissing space station commands and messages from astronauts foreshadowed the impending space mission. The opening number, which saw The Clown (Salvador Salangsang) ask two audience members to join him on stage for a drum recreation of the iconic 2001: A Space Odyssey theme accompanied by the audience in 3-part harmony, was a fun way to start the space-themed show. Structured choreography by marching dancers dressed in space suits and a parade of giant inflated balls painted to look like Earth provided the perfect segue into a series of mind-blowing stunts. The combination of catapulting, plummeting and twirling evoked the orbital nature of space.
The untethered soaring of The Rocketeers, Hand to Hand and Trio Transcendent, demonstrated power, flexibility and balance in every leap. There was not an ounce of disbelief in their abilities to execute feats of incredible difficulty. The astonishing ease in which they bounded into the air was indicative of the years of dedication and discipline these artists devote to their craft. Those who tumbled – the dynamic duo, Submergence, and Marat Dashempilov – had people on the edge of their seats. The amount of stamina and strength it takes to hoist one’s body into the air using nothing except for straps attached to one’s wrists before plummeting metres to the ground (and doing it again and again) did not go unnoticed. What was more was there was an audible sigh of relief after every trick, turn and flip – a true testament to the talent displayed saluting the anniversary of the moon landing. The third element was the spinning, which completed the spherical nature of the show. Lyra artist, Emma Dutton, and Led Cyr Wheel dancer, Anna Lewandowska displayed their baffling contortion skills in gorgeous star-like costumes, while twirling hypnotically. The dizzying teamwork of Duo Velocity – defying the odds as they spun on roller-skates – received rapturous applause despite a teeter toward the end of their routine. The audience no doubt recognised the immense challenge Evgenii Isaev and Natalia Korzhukova had to create a symbiosis between core strength and effortless line. Another crowd favourite was Washington Trapeze artist, Oleg Spigin, otherwise known as The Cosmonaut. One of the few artists who was alone on stage, he stunningly orbited metres in the air balancing on his mouth! Screeches of pain and wonder escaped the mouths of the audience – a justifiable reaction!
While my frustration of not seeing more female artists on stage was experienced fairly early on, I was reminded that historically speaking space exploration was a predominantly male-dominated endeavour; and while 13 women in US history outperformed men in space-related feats, it was not until 1983 that a female astronaut made it onto the scene. Cirque Stratosphere’s inclusion of 4 x World Pole Sport & Artistic Pole Champion, Polina Volchek, quelled my frustrations. Her grace, beauty of line, form, strength and mesmerising command over the apparatus, in my opinion, could not be rivalled. Her act became representative of an astronautical gyroscope – necessary for astronauts seeking to maintain angular velocity and orientation of their bodies against zero-gravity.
Gymnast and lyrical dancer, Felice Aguilar, delivered a most emotional performance which perfectly symbolised the hope and fear on earth of humankind watching the moon landing through television screens. The eagle landing could not have been more perfectly consolidated than through the terrifying performance of Flyers Valencia on the Wheel of Death. The Wheel of Death made a rare reappearance. Notoriously known for its dark past – deaths on the contraption – artists, Roy Miller and Luis Romero bravely set aside their fears to produce well-synchronised runs, jumps and skips inside and outside of the hoops.
The combination of musical composition by Arjun Chawda and the sophisticated skills of DJ Hikuri Roots provided a soundtrack of epic proportions – the music could rival the scores of the great Hollywood film composers. Supplemented by the gorgeous and celestial lighting design of Paul Smith – strobes and flashes – and the cleverly designed costumes of James Browne, this journey will forever be etched in my mind.
Huge commendations to cast and crew for tackling the expansiveness of space with bravery, heart and creativity. This family show is not to miss. Cirque Stratosphere will return to the Sydney Opera House on 14th – 19th January. Book your seats now!
Photo Credit: Jordan Munns
All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.