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Cirque at the symphony

WANT TO GO?

Cirque de la Symphonie with the West Virginia Symphony Orchestra

WHERE: Clay Center

WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday

TICKETS: $39, $55, $67

INFO: 304-561-3570 or www.wvsymphony.orgCHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Bill Allen said he feels a little guilty about people paying full price for their seats at Friday and Saturday night's Cirque de la Symphonie shows with the West Virginia Symphony Orchestra.

"They're paying full price, but they're really only going to need the edge of those seats," the show's executive director/producer said and laughed.

Cirque de la Symphonie, he promised, will provide plenty of circus excitement.

There will be aerialists performing above the audience, but "it's not just people flying overhead," he said.

"There will be jugglers and contortionists and other acts -- all on the stage."

He added, "What you have is a sort of three-dimensional extravaganza with cirque artists while the symphony plays."

Among the artists will be Allen's partner and the show's creative director, Alexander Streltsov, a Russian silk aerialist and acrobat who got his start at the Moscow Circus.

Streltsov was something of a sensation from a young age. In 1991, at the age of 12, he won the gold medal at the Festival Mondial Du Cirque De L'Avenir, an international contest for cirque artists and also performed on Broadway as part of cirque director Valentin Gneushev's show, "Cirk Valentin."

"He's amazing," Allen said.

But he's not the entire show.

Cirque de la Symphonie will also feature aerialist, acrobat and trapeze artist Christine Van Loo, a seven-time consecutive national gymnastic champion. Also performing are mime and juggler Vladamir Tsarkov and contortionist and gymnast Elena Tsarkova. 

Allen said the visuals will be jaw dropping, but the music will also be spectacular.

"We've got a pretty vigorous repertoire planned," he said. "There's a little opera, some light classical music, some more modern music with a piece by John Williams.

"Even if you came just for the opening piece by Drorak, his 'Carnival Overture,' you'd be getting your money's worth."

The road to founding Cirque de la Symphonie was a long one. Allen, a veteran of the music business, began visiting Russia in the early 1990s, after travel restrictions in and out of the country loosened. While there, he came in contact with the Moscow Circus and the cultural institution it represented.

"In Russia, you could get a masters degree in Circus Arts. They had pension plans for performers who'd given their whole life to performing."

And the level of performance was remarkable. The ranks of the circus contained many ex-Olympic athletes.

Allen said, "Just watching it, I thought that what they did deserved to be seen on a higher level, presented more like fine arts."

He made several connections with people within the circus, and by the late 1990s, he was working with Stretslov and occasionally putting together shows with symphonies. In 2005, they officially incorporated and created Cirque de la Symphonie, which is the only Cirque show to perform exclusively with symphony orchestras.

"We stay busy," Allen said. "It's a new venue every week."

That's part of what makes the show so dynamic. It has to change from week to week, based on the size of the orchestra and the space the group has to work with.

He said, "A lot of the theaters are old music halls. They're often very fragile or have recently undergone a multimillion dollar renovation, and nobody wants to crack the plaster."

The performers also have to work in close quarters with the orchestra, sharing the stage.

"We have about 15 feet of space down from the orchestra," he said, noting that it's plenty of room. He added that they'd already scouted the Clay Center to make sure they could pull it off.

"I think people are going to like it," he said. "We're looking to create a one plus one equals three sort of effect -- a lot of wow factor."

Reach Bill Lynch at lynch@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5195.


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