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Cirque Musica at Symphony Hall in Phoenix

The circus and the symphony wouldn’t seem to have much in common. One is considered playful and childlike; the other serious and stuffy.

But “Cirque Musica” dispels such stereotypes, merging the two art forms into a sophisticated yet approachable production. Daring aerialists, precise acrobats and ripped strong men show off their skills as the symphony performs familiar classics behind or below them.

Stephen Cook, the show’s producer, started his career doing marketing for Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey, and later for the Dallas Symphony.

“The classic-music industry is in a tough place right now, in terms of getting new audiences,” Cook said. “So I used my knowledge of both the symphony and circus world and created something that would expose audiences to great music"" but also entertain in a fun way.”

Cook created “Cirque Musica” three years ago, taking his performers to symphonies all across the country. His company is not related to another circus-meets-classical show, “Cirque de la Symphonie,” which visited the Phoenix Symphony last year.

Instead of producing a show with just one act after another, Cook worked to weave in a story line so everything would flow smoothly.

“It is all connected, from beginning to end, and transitions really well from piece to piece,” he said. “I really want people to sit down and, before they know it, two hours went by like that.”

All the classical music is well-known, each piece paired with the intensity of each act. There usually is only one rehearsal with the symphony before the show, so it’s a challenge for both sides.

Lyric Wallenda, 29, one of the aerialists in the show, is a seventh-generation performer in the renowned circus family the Flying Wallendas. Although she grew up in a talented family, Wallenda is humbled by working with professional symphonies.

“It’s amazing because we have such talent in the show,” she said. “The music, you can’t really put it into words. Performing with musicians who have practiced their entire lives, like we’ve been practicing since we were kids, is really overwhelming at first.”

Wallenda joined the company in November 2011 after performing in cirque shows in Hawaii.

“I thought this show sounded like something very different, very new,” Wallenda said. “It appeals to a different clientele than the average family going to the circus. And those who enjoy the circus can experience the symphony for the first time.”

She has an act with her mother, Rietta, in the show. The duo perform the Aerial Perch, in which Lyric hangs by her right ankle and holds her mom while she does a helicopter neck spin. Their scene is set to “Night on Bald Mountain,” by Modest Mussorgsky, which has become a Halloween favorite.

Wallenda also assists her husband, Simon Arestov, in his acrobatic act the Rolla Bolla, in which he balances on a series of platforms and objects to a medley of “Flight of the Bumblebee,” by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, “Imperial March” from the “Star Wars V: The Empire Strikes Back” and the “Infernal Galop,” by Jacques Offenbach (best known for its association with the cancan).

“The act just builds until he is 15 feet in the air, and people are just going crazy in the audience,” Cook said. “There’s an inherent danger to it, and you always have a little bit of a sigh of relief when it’s over.”

Another popular act involves a violinist who begins playing Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto, and halfway through the song she is raised in the air and continues playing.

All ages are welcome to the show, and there’s no formal dress code.


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