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BPO brings circus atmosphere to town

Kleinhans Music Hall has played host to some unforgettable tableaux, but none more striking than one that appeared Saturday night in the second half of “Cirque Musica.”

As the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra played, a young woman with a violin was playing the solo part to Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto, and doing a good job of it, too, while suspended high over the stage. Her long, long dress fell all the way to the floor. On the other side of the stage a shirtless muscleman was going through a series of random contortions and handstands.

Had you walked in in the middle of this spectacle, you would have thought you were dreaming. Either that, or that you had hopped a time machine back to the age of vaudeville.

Kleinhans did feel like a vaudeville for this gaudy, rather goofy one-night-only performance. It harked back to the spirit of 19th century entertainment, with light classical music, a variety of athletic attractions and a clown to pull it all together.

Two Wallendas were part of the fun. Lyric Wallenda Arestov and Rietta Wallenda teamed up for an act that went to the first movement of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. It ended with another unforgettable scene: One of the lithe women – I don’t know who was who – was braced against a bar, again high over the stage. Her legs were in an “L” shape, her feet fastened to this 45-degree bar, her torso hanging downward. She held a strap attached to the head of the other woman, dangling beneath her, and was spinning her around in lightning-quick circles. What an image! It got a big hand.

These were the high points. Truth be told, the show was kind of spotty. There was a lot of impressive contorting and hanging from ribbons and trapezes. The violinist, Veronica Gan, could play, and Christian Stoinev, her shirtless partner, was striking as he balanced himself on one hand and twisted and turned.

Somehow, though, the derring-do never achieved that beauty that good circus acts can radiate. The acts were planned carefully for specific pieces of music, which included Rimsky-Korsakov’s “The Flight of the Bumblebee” and Mussorgsky’s “Night on Bald Mountain,” and you had to respect that. But the individual performers were often a little off or seemed to be scrambling. It often seemed that they were flying by the seat of their pants in more ways than one.

In their defense, they had a tough challenge, to add extra thrill to music such as Beethoven’s Fifth and Aaron Copland’s “Hoe Down.” These pieces, while very different, are both fascinating and attention-grabbing on their own. It takes a lot to upstage them, and maybe it can’t be done. There were a few times, too, when things ran off the rails because of the small stage space.

The packed house seemed entertained, though, and the night went swiftly. Matthew Kraemer, on the podium, was a suave master of ceremonies. The clown, Matt Roben, was not your conventional circus clown, more like a comedian, and he scored some great moments. He was terrific when he danced with a robe on a stick, ingeniously making the empty garment look like a figure who was grabbing him. It looked like a tribute to Donald O’Connor flirting with the dummy in “Singing in the Rain.”

Hula hoop artist Ashley Winn was winning as, to the strains of Dukas’ “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice,” she donned what looked like 30 hoops in a sparkling rainbow of colors. It looked as if she had stepped into a giant Slinky. She got them all whirling – but for just a few seconds. I would have loved to have seen that for longer.

And not to sound like a nerd, but I also wish the BPO had played some music from Wagner’s “The Flying Dutchman.” The Flying Wallendas reportedly took their name from that opera. Well, maybe next time. And I would not mind if there is a next time.

This act has potential.


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