Sep 17, 2009 Herm Card Uncategorized
There was a time you had to travel far not near to witness Cirque du Soleil, now Syracuse is on the Cirque it.
When Brooke Webb “ran away to join the circus,” she did not follow the nostalgic American view of a seemingly outdated metaphor for escaping the tedium of small town America. First of all, she is Australian. Second, she did not run away, she ran to the circus –And, unlike the tradition, she did not catch on as a roadie or other laborer, mucking out stalls and driving tent stakes. And, she did not, out of lack of work or boredom, catch on with a tent show lumbering through town.
What she did was take her 12 years of Broadway experience, her three theater degrees and joined the circus, specifically, Cirque du Soleil, as the artistic director for “Alegria,” the touring show that opened in Syracuse on Wednesday, Sept. 9.
Webb’s responsibility for the show is all encompassing. She has 56 performers from 23 countries, most of whom are world class athletes. They travel in “three coaches and 17 lorries (Australia, remember)” that transport the performers and staff and tons of equipment — dozens of trunks full of costumes, masks, musical instruments, lights, electronics, free weights, stationary bikes, props, makeup and the “tiger” featured in the metaphorical animal act. (No animals are harmed in this performance.)
She said that it is not unlike directing a stage performance. There is a theme and a story line running through each show, maintained by a number of artistically costumed characters (think Greek chorus) that ties the acts together.
The performers of the “typical” acts such as fire jugglers and contortionists come from circus backgrounds, many from traditional circuses in Europe and Asia. The others — “We have Olympic medal winners, and many others who competed internationally. Their skills are never an issue. This is just a theatrical interpretation of what they have always trained for.”
As we talked, Webb closely watched a trapeze artist train for her performance that evening. Since Webb has no experience on the trapeze (“Are you kidding? No way what she was looking for in the routine?
“We have a coach that helps with the physical part of the routines. I look for how it all fits together. I see the imagery in their movements. I direct based on the whole performance. I look for the artistry. I look for the flow of the routine and picture how it will look to the audience. If I make suggestions, they are about how I see it on behalf of the audience.”
It is, of course, a bit different when much of the cast is at some sort of physical risk. “We have understudies just like in typical theater. We sometimes have to make adjustments based on injuries, but we are prepared for that. When the lights come up, we are ready.”
Three hours later, the lights came up, and they were definitely ready. The “controlled chaos” that Webb described earlier unfolded into two-plus hours of entertainment with every bit of the magic of the old-time circus of simpler times, plus the high tech wizardry and athleticism of 21st century theater.
To review the performance would be useless. There are plenty of adjectives to describe what happens on stage, but what would be the point? Certain things — any circus — let alone the magnificent production that is Cirque, can only be appreciated in person, letting the audience reaction — laughter at the clowns, extravagant applause at the singers and dancers and gasps of amazement at the athletic, and risky, performances of tumbling, juggling, balancing and flying through the air with anything but “the greatest of ease.”
And at the end, with the audience rendering the well deserved “standing O” Brooke Webb was providing her own review — cheering and laughing and admitting that, once it starts, she is pretty much just one of the audience. “I love the circus and I love this job.”