Alexander Streitsov has one of the most unusual jobs in the world. He flies over the heads of audiences at concert halls while a live orchestra plays on stage.
“You can’t compare flying over an audience to cruise ships or theaters,” he said a couple of months ago. “With live music behind you and 2,000 people looking at you, it’s a lot of pressure and excitement. . . . but moving and powerful.”
As patrons of the Philadelphia Orchestra know from last season at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center when Streitsov and others from the 35-member Cirque de la Symphonie troupe debuted, their show was eye-popping.
“It is amazing,” Streitsov said. “One plus one equals three. It’s magical. It has a three-dimensional effect.”
Members of the troupe return this season for two nights. On Friday, the theme is “Magical Tales” with Stephane Deneve conducting. On Saturday, it will be “Love and Romance” with Rossen Milanov. The orchestra will play short pieces appropriate to each theme.
Cirque de la Symphonie
with the Philadelphia Orchestra
WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday
WHERE: Saratoga Performing Arts Center, Saratoga Spa State Park
HOW MUCH: $72.50–$31, lawn $20. Children 12 and under, free; students, $10 (lawn) or 25 percent off amphitheater
MORE INFO: 584-9330, www.spac.org/
The concept of putting aerial artists, which include those athletes who work from trapeze, ropes and hoops, with a live orchestra belongs to Streitsov. The son of a Russian aerial artist, he began gymnastics school when he was 6 and worked for four years with his father. At 12 he won the gold medal at the Festival Mondial Du Cirque De L’Avenir in Paris, an international competition for circus artists.
“I was born into a circus family. It’s my destiny,” he said.
Over the past two decades, Streitsov, who is known for his combination of natural strength, artistic expression and grace, has performed for three Russian presidents, with the Bolshoi Ballet, in numerous theater and stage productions including Broadway shows and in several television broadcasts.
For all these gigs, music has been an integral part of the show, he said. Even when he used to work with his father in the regular circus, he was expected to be sensitive to the music’s tempo, to pick out its peaks and valleys and to be aware of how long it took to do each trick.
“There are only a certain number of tricks at your disposal,” he said. “That’s why I’m always up for new repertoire and go to the local gym to put things together.”
But working with a live orchestra compared to tape or a circus band, as he usually does, is very different. Instead of being able to time his moves to blend and fuse with the music’s beats, he has to rely on a conductor’s accompaniment ability. During a tour of the United States about 10 years ago, he posed the idea to Erich Kunzel of the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra, who agreed to give it a try, Streitsov said. The show was a great success. “Jaws dropped,” he said.
Over the next year, which included a performance with the Houston Symphony, he began working with agent Bill Allen. Six years ago, he and Allen formed Cirque de la Symphonie to include contortionists, jugglers, balancers, and strongmen as well as acrobats and fliers.
“I got a real education as to how an orchestra works,” Allen said, laughing. “I didn’t even know what an orchestra librarian was.”
Last year was the first time Cirque worked with the Philadelphia. Although most of the tunes the orchestra played last year and will play this season are known to the perfomers, Streitsov said it was important to collaborate with the conductors. He suggests the repertoire.
“I live with this music for six weeks,” he said. “It’s important the orchestra understands to some extent what I’ll be doing. Some conductors are mentors; others are fleet-footed.”
Milanov knows what to do since he conducted last year; it will be Deneve’s first time.
Cirque is doing two different shows — it also does shows for Valentine’s Day, Christmas and Fourth of July — and seven artists will perform:
-- Christine Van Loo, a seven-time national champion in acrobatic gymnastics, will work with aerial hoops and silks. Loo has performed at the 2002 Winter Olympics and two Grammy Awards shows and choreographed Britney Spears’ world tour and the Stars on Ice U.S. tour.
-- “Jarek and Darek” are Jaroslaw Marciniak and Dariusz Wronski, former Polish national hand-balancing champions who perform throughout Europe.
-- Aloysia Gavre, who recently trained Reese Witherspoon for her role in “Water for Elephants,” is a veteran stage and theater cirque performer who directs the Los Angeles Cirque school in aerial acrobatics.
-- Vladimir Tsarkov, a mime and juggler, trained at Russia’s premiere circus school, won gold medals at international competitions in France and created the famous Red Harlequin act that features rings, balls and batons.
-- Hoop artist Irina Burdetsky is from a Russian circus family. She toured with several circuses including Cirque Ingenieux and Cirque La Masque and Showboat in Atlantic City.
-- Elena Tsarkova, a graduate of Moscow’s Circus School and winner of the National Russian Circus Festival, does contortion, balance and dance moves.
-- Sagiv Ben Binyamin, an Israeli gymnast, is new this season. His career includes stunts for films (“Polar Express” and “Spiderman Rocks”), acrobatics with several circuses and work with Cher. His flirty tango with Gavre, rope act and aerial rollback to Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries” will be thrilling, Allen said.
Streitsov and some of the other members of the troupe have been doing their moves for more than two decades.
“It’s like riding a bike,” he said, laughing. “But there are no rookies. You must be a professional.”
Since Cirque officially got off the ground a few years ago and has been touring North America and Europe, the athletes have discovered they were doing more than trying to expand awareness of their skills.
“We’ve been helping the symphony world to get through hard times,” Streitsov said. “We were looking for a way to explore something new and didn’t realize it was bringing in new audiences for the orchestras. We’re proud of that.”