Have you ever fancied running away from home and joining the circus?
Imagine a wonderland of octopus tattoos, emerald peacock earrings, red velvet carpet and a crown of rose petal flowers. As the audience, as eclectic as the evening’s performance, settled in to their seats, the buzz of anticipation swelled with every rhythmic string stroke. The lights dimmed to a soft purple hue, and fathers, daughters, first dates and sisters leaned forward to breathe in the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra’s PNC Pops performance of Cirque de la Symphonie at Heinz Hall for the Performing Arts.
Conductor Jack Everly introduced the magic that 14 composers, 16 musical arrangements and 77 performers can create on a Friday night in the city of Pittsburgh. Its pace alternated from triumphant and frenetic to graceful and cathartic, like a fairy tale in perpetual motion.
Aloysia Gavre and Sagiv Ben Binyamin delivered a seductive romance to Aldreo Le Pero and Carlos Gardel’s Por Una Cabeza, a tango in 3/5 that showcased masculine vigor and the scent of a beautiful woman. John Williams provided the perky, comic and wonderful soundtrack that the symphony navigated as Vladimir Tsarkov, a painted-face clown of sorts, juggled to laughter from the crowd. And Alexander Streltsov moved metal as effortlessly as a silk scarf or a cowboy’s lasso to Carmen’s “Les Toréador.” We melted into the music of Tchaikovsky’s The Sleeping Beauty as Elena Tsarkov contorted her delicate frame, wrapped in white. She sparkled with strength as the waltz enveloped her.
Emmanuel Chabrier’s España stood alone as the musicians yielded their power beneath a red spotlight. The march of the bass drum remained confident and consistent, while the harpsichord filled the room with plucked staccato. This 19th-century rhapsody and its triumphant conclusion erupted with captivated cheers and applause. Immediately preceding intermission, Gavre effortlessly seduced the conductor and flew above the stage on an aerial hoop that held her fate with only her toes.
The second half of the concert was as enchanted and ethereal as the first. We laughed as the Tsarkov couple captured our childlike sense of wonder during Zequinha de Abreu’s Tico-Tico No Fubá. The smooth waltz of Rodger’s Carousel had us dancing in our feet as Everly swelled with energy. We returned to Neverland when Binyamin manipulated lengths of rope as an extension of his body, all smiles and out of breath. Steltsov and Van Loo embraced each other in perfect unison to the waltz from Swan Lake, cultivating a beautiful love story, like a dragon and his princess.
The Strong Men, Jaerk and Darek, revealed the human body in all its overwhelming glory. Bald, barefoot and covered in gold, we fell silent as the orchestra never faltered or failed. One man balanced on the other’s head with only the grip of his hand as he rose, slowly, from his knees through pulsating quadriceps and his expanding rib cage. They trusted each other completely as we traveled through Ottorino Respighi’s Pines of Rome.
We wanted more. More muscle. More music. More magic. We left the theater breathless, sweaty and full of adrenaline, as we lived vicariously as circus artists in harmony with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra.