Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Greatest show on earth, sun

A show that is both death defying and family friendly may
sound like an oxymoron, but Cirque du Soleil's "Saltimbanco" successfully gave
new meaning (and eye-and-ear-popping sights and sounds) to both genres Saturday
and Sunday at the Alliant Energy Center.

The event drew a decidedly mixed audience — from avid
theatergoers (the man sitting behind me actually grieved, "Oh, honey, I forgot
my binoculars!" even though we were quite close to the stage as it was) to kids
who giggled constantly. Soliciting "oohs," "aahs," and "oh, shits!" throughout,
"Saltimbanco" turns the spectacle of the circus into thought-provoking art.

Hailing from Canada, "Saltimbanco" originated in 1991, which
makes it the longest-running Cirque du Soleil show. This fact also makes it a
bit surprising that the troupe has never stopped in Madison before now. Surely,
however, this neglect has been redeemed by the stunning entertainment the
performers brought to the Coliseum stage.


The story of "Saltimbanco," which derives from the Italian
"saltare in banco," literally meaning "to jump on a bench," centers on city
growth and the diversity of the urban landscape. Cirque du Soleil investigates these
themes through a cast of eclectic characters and interpretive song and dance. Even
the introduction was artfully executed with the ageless figure of The Baron —
or, to those who didn't read up on the program beforehand, a man dressed in a
commanding top hat and striped cape — listing the standard rules: "Cameras with
digital flash memory are strictly prohibited. If you need to leave, get up,
walk to the ushers and they will direct you," et cetera in a bizarrely accented
voice with elaborate hand gestures and goofy interludes with his companion, The
Dreamer, a Puck-like character who parodies the world around him, dressed in
blue footy pajamas with a plump belly and long tail.

Each act of "Saltimbanco" is multidimensional. When the
juggler entered the spotlight, for instance, effortlessly controlling seven
white balls with fancy footwork, sideline actors — namely The Baroques,
symbolizing the rebellious and free-spirited personas of society — moved about
the stage, some observing the central performance and others partaking in their
own curious activities. These segments often created more movement than one
could possibly see all at once, but the effect was never overwhelming and
always engaging.

Other performances featured fare typical to what one would
expect from the big top, yet each was filled with poetic grace and grandeur. A
clown deftly and joyously steered a bicycle as he rode in circles backward,
balanced on the handlebars and popped wheelies. Acrobats then took the stage
and climbed Chinese poles, meant to reflect city skyscrapers. The group of 26 also
swung themselves around, creating formations and displaying amazing feats of
human agility and strength.

Balancing acts were central to many of the performances, as
was especially the case with two men who conducted a hand-to-hand ground
sequence. The climax of the act was reached when one man sat on the ground with
legs outstretched while the other placed one hand on the man's head and hoisted
himself upside down over him, proceeding to move his limbs into poses without
ever losing his balance or strength.

The trapeze act was also breathtaking. The two female
acrobats wore identical silver dress and swung 25 feet above the stage in a
series of dazzling and dangerous tricks. The long performance was scored by
operatic music that created very appropriate tension and suspense.

The lowly jester, Eddy, however, was by and large the crowd
favorite, as he used sound to illustrate various activities and emotion to
comedic effect. At one point he pitched imaginary baseballs to audience
members, poking fun when the ball was "overthrown" and celebrating when it was
"caught." This segment became abstract when the ball was caught in his mouth,
causing it to become stuck. The scene escalated when Eddy had to, er, "flush" the
ball out, but then drowned when the toilet overflowed and filled the room with
sewage. The whole effect was beyond incredible; Eddy moved and controlled his
voice in ways to make us believe the funny-looking man on stage was actually
swimming in a room filled with water, trying to call for help. The scene then took
a turn to the humorous again in the end when he was rescued by The Ringmaster.

In all, "Saltimbanco" was an acid trip of neon colors,
eccentric patterns, strange language and unforgettable acrobatic achievement.
Scored by music played by its own band of clowns, each act combined elements of
poetic movement and abstract depictions of city life into an array of
performing acts, altogether producing a wholly enjoyable theatergoing experience.
Given their track record, it is anyone's guess when Cirque du Soleil will
return to Madison, but when they finally do, it will be a much greater travesty
to miss it.

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