By DAVID DOW BENTLEY III
“The People’s Critic”
Photos: Chris Gray/Cirque de la Symphonie
[Click any photo to enlarge]
The fun at Houston Symphony’s Jones Hall began as soon as much-loved conductor, Michael Krajewski, walked to the podium, as the orchestra played the
Theme from Rocky, long associated with its very popular Principal Pops Conductor who retired a few years ago after 17 years in that position. As he took the microphone, he quickly joked about how this would be his “Third Annual Farewell Concert.”
And what a concert this astonishing, “Cirque de la Symphonie,” program would be.
From just a few rows back in center orchestra, I was about to see feats of both magic and acrobatic strength and skill that would seem to defy all laws of logic and gravity. The amazing moments would be punctuated by bits of clown-like comedy and pantomime from a jester named “Jaster,” and his talented female partner. With always amusing movements and facial expressions, they performed incredible and instantaneous costume changes that forever put to death the notion that, “Seeing is believing!”
Another striking cast member seemed to be some strange, angular and orange creature known as The Mask due to his eerie white face. He would lumber about the stage, all the while skillfully juggling numerous small white balls and seeming like some very large and mysterious dog as he roamed about.
Of course musically this would be a breathtaking performance, and to accompany it maestro Krajewski had wisely selected a smorgasbord of the most exciting classical music in the repertoire. Act One would include such symphonic delights as the “Tritsch-Tratsch (Chit Chat) Polka,” of J. Strauss Jr., Khachaturian’s “Ayesha’s Suite No. 1 Dance from Gayane,” Bizet’s “Les Toréadors,” the “Danse Boheme,” from Carmen, “Waltz from the Masquerade Suite” by Khachaturian, Offenbach’s “La Vie Parisienne Overture,” and Offenbach’s delightful “Can-Can,” from his Overture to Orpheus in the Underworld.
Throughout the performance there would be soaring and astonishing aerial acrobatics on ropes, straps, colorful silken strands, as well as fantastic feats of juggling with neon discs, hula hoops, and bowling pins. John Williams’ thrilling “March from Superman,” would take the program to Intermission, but there would be much more visual and musical excitement to come.
Act Two began with another amazing magic trick as the formally dressed conductor was called upon to assist in thoroughly binding the cast’s comedienne from head to toe with heavy rope that secured her hands, arms and legs. Then the reluctant Mr. Krajewski was coaxed to join his bound victim in a small election booth-like curtain at mid-stage. The curtain was briefly shaken for a matter of seconds, and when it was pulled aside the woman was still bound, but miraculously now wearing the conductor’s formal black jacket, tightly secured under the ropes that bound her, while he was now in shirt and tie without his jacket! The mystified audience gasped in amazement as the ropes were untied and the jacket restored to its rightful owner.
Musical selections during this second half of the program included Tchaikovsky’s “Danse des Cygnes,” from Swan Lake, Dance of the Buffoons from Rimsky-Korsakov’s The Snow Maiden, Smetana’s “Dance of the Comedians” from The Bartered Bride, Gounod’s “Funeral March of a Marionette,” Falla’s “Ritual Fire Dance,” Tchaikovsky’s “Waltz” from Swan Lake,” and the Rossini-Respighi “Tarantella” from La Boutique Fantasque.
But the savvy conductor had cleverly saved the best for last as he launched the orchestra into the seductive masterpiece of Ravel’s intoxicating, “Bolero.” To top it off, this selection prompted the slow-motion appearance, from opposite ends of the stage, of two mysterious figures, men of magnificent physique, and coated from head to toe in silver make-up to rival the Tin Man in “The Wizard of Oz.” Known as the Acro Duo, their every move continued to be in slow motion that paralleled the building excitement of the music. Their gymnastic feats of posed acrobatic artistry were simply unbelievable. I hope these several photographic examples will verify my claim. Bravo to the orchestra, conductor and all performers for this uniquely memorable concert!
A member of both The Lambs Club Inc. and The American Theatre Critics Association (ATCA), the columns of DAVID DOW BENTLEY III have appeared on Broadway websites, in newspapers from the East Coast to the Gulf Coast, and may be viewed online at the website: www.ThePeoplesCritic.com . E-mail may be directed to ThePeoplesCritic3@gmail.com.