Cirque de la Symphonie blends music, acrobatics

Muscles tensed. Silk entwined. Through music they float on air. Engulfed by the notes of Bizet, Tchaikovsky, Berlioz, Saint-Saens, the suspended acrobats sway, raising the orchestral experience to dizzying new heights.

They are the Cirque de la Symphonie, an acclaimed group of acrobats and aerialists performing this week with the Phoenix Symphony.  

Inspired by the extensive Russian travels of executive director and producer Bill Allen, the Cirque de la Symphonie is a marriage of Allen’s entertainment background and his close interaction with the Streltsov family of the Moscow Circus in the late ’90s. The Streltsovs were career circus performers and their son, Alexander, a rising cirque star performing in conjunction with the Bolshoi Ballet and before presidents Gorbachev, Yeltsin, and Putin.

With Allen’s assistance, Alexander performed as an aerialist with the Cincinnati Pops in 1998 and quickly gained popularity on the U.S. cirque scene. Eventually settling in Atlanta and starting a family, Streltsov began collaborating with Allen to reproduce their success in Cincinnati. Staging similar circus-symphony collaborations throughout the country convinced Allen and Streltsov they’re idea was sound, according to a press release. Officially incorporating Cirque de la Symphonie in 2005, their first performance was with Maestro Michael Krajewski and the Houston Symphony.

Scorning garish gimmicks, Allen and Streltsov strive to enhance rather than detract from the symphony experience. They only allow one or two performers on stage at once and never use smoke machines, confetti or flashing laser lights.  

Streltsov himself takes the ropes in some of the performance, dazzling audiences with his accompaniment to “Les Toreadors” from Bizet’s opera “Carmen” and Tchaikovsky’s “Waltz” from “Swan Lake,” performed in tandem with Female Olympic Athlete of the Year and acro-gymnastics hall-of-famer Christine Van Loo.

Performances this week are the finale for the Phoenix Symphony’s APS and Target Family Pop Series. Conducted by Maestro Hector Guzman of the San Angelo Symphony Orchestra, the Friday and Saturday evening concerts and the Sunday afternoon concert are two hours with an intermission, while the Saturday matinee concert is an hour.

The concert is popular with those who don’t typically attend the symphony, said Mary McCauley, Phoenix Symphony marketing and public relations assistant. “It’s really a family concert,” McCauley said.