[PHOTOS Courtesy of Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion. Click any photo to enlarge]
By David Dow Bentley III “The People’s Critic”
They say that “Seeing is Believing,” but for last week’s audience at the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion, the Houston Symphony had prepared a program that would seriously test that notion. And as summer vacations were winding down, what a memorable night of excitement was in store for Houston area youngsters just weeks away from returning to school. That excitement would be provided by the orchestra’s special guests, the brilliant artists and acrobats of Cirque de la Symphonie.
The unusual concert got underway with the sweeping excitement of Shostakovich’s “Festive Overture,” under the fine direction of conductor, Enrico Lopez-Yañez. Standing tall and erect, he looked splendid in his crisp electric blue blazer with its formal black bow tie. The eye-catching and dramatic flexibility of his animated movements while conducting the orchestra would be a show in itself during the evening. Meanwhile, the giant projection screens to the right and left of the main concert stage would display marvelous close-ups of the musicians throughout the performance.
Next, as the orchestra played Rimsky-Korsakov’s devilish “Dance of the Buffoons,” a mischievous couple came on stage with the gent dressed in a glittering silver sequined jacket and black top hat. But it would be the woman’s attire that would steal the show during the mystifying magic of this sequence. There was a foil-draped hoop on the stage floor, and each time her partner directed her to stand in the middle of the hoop, he would gently lift it up to momentarily obscure her from view for what I would estimate was an instantaneous two seconds before dropping the hoop back to the floor revealing her in a totally different dress. During the pair’s comical antics, the process was repeated at least a half-dozen times in rapid succession, with a dramatically new dress adorning her each time. It was truly astonishing!
During the segment that followed, as the orchestra played Rachmaninoff’s lovely, “Vocalise, Opus 96,” the audience would learn the reason for the tantalizing red hoop that had hung high above the stage since the beginning of the program. An attractive woman dressed in sparkling yellow, with a long blonde braid of golden hair, grabbed on to some ropes hanging from the ceiling and quickly ascended skyward where she proceeded to display amazing strength, agility, and the grace of a ballerina while performing countless acrobatic twists and turns using that red hoop.
Then it was on to the music of Glinka’s “Overture to Rusian and Ludmila,” as yet another amazing acrobat arrived, but this time with an enormous orange/neon hoop so large that he could place himself within it, supported only by his fully extended arms and legs as he rolled about in remarkable and ever-changing ways. At times he resembled a human gyroscope, or an extravagant rotating Christmas tree ornament. After the orchestra’s beautiful performance of Smetana’s, “Dance of the Comedians,” the first part of the program closed with Wagner’s thrilling, “Ride of the Valkyries.”
The conductor began that selection by reminding the audience that the piece might sound familiar to Looney Tunes fans of Bugs Bunny, who may have ever heard Elmer Fudd singing, “Kill da wabbit, Kill da wabbit!” During this exciting selection yet another remarkable acrobat appeared, and this handsome man had an amazingly muscular physique that was put to good use during his impressive displays of strength and aerial trapeze brilliance.
Following the Intermission the fun began anew during Bizet’s Danse Bohȇme from the opera, “Carmen.” An acrobatic clown began his balancing antics on a high wire, and even included a hands-free headstand mid-wire. When his bloomers were revealed as his baggy pants fell down, the audience roared with laughter. It reminded me of the merriment at another Pavilion event years ago that had featured the screening of a classic Charlie Chaplin film. With the orchestra playing Manuel de Falla’s “Ritual Fire Dance,” the next acrobat to step forward brought with her a large assortment of colorful “hula hoops.” She proceeded to amaze the crowd with countless tricks while sometimes whirling the hoops simultaneously on every arm and leg. She concluded with such a huge number of stainless steel hoops that she resembled a human “Slinky,” for those who remember that popular toy. Then, with a dramatically waxed and curled mustache and a devilish gleam in his eye, the amusing gent in the top hat returned. While the orchestra played “Les Toreadors” from the opera Carmen, he proceeded to do another series of amazing balancing tricks, this time with some large rectangles and cubes constructed only of metal rods.
While the hard-working acrobats took a much-deserved break, the musicians carried on brilliantly as the symphony performed Offenbach’s majestic Overture to “Orpheus in the Underworld.” As the piece made its way toward the familiar “Can-Can” theme of its thrilling conclusion, there were many impressive solo moments from individual musicians. Then came the wondrous closing Waltz from Tchaikovsky’s immortal “Swan Lake,” as a handsome couple now ascend skyward on two flowing red ribbons attached to the ceiling. It would be a calming sight of incredible grace, strength and precision as they appeared to fly about in the open space above the stage during their acrobatic routines.
Finally, under blood-red lighting, came the seductive, slow and intoxicating theme of the ever escalating “Bolero” of Maurice Ravel. It would feature a last astonishing feat as two gentlemen slowly positioned themselves so that one was high atop the other performing a mind boggling, one-handed handstand on the head of his partner. It was a perfect final reminder that we had been in the presence of magnificent music, a sensational orchestra, and awesome demonstrations of miraculous human strength, agility and imagination. Bravo!
BLAST OFF TO SPACE will be the Houston Symphony’s next Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion event at 7:30 pm on September 14th, 2023. Mezzanine and Lawn seating will be free, and Reserved Orchestra seating will be $25.00. For tickets and information call 713-224-7575, or visit www.HoustonSymphony.org. The Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion is located at 2005 Lake Robbins Drive, The Woodlands, TX. 77380
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