I had the privilege of attending Cirque du Soleil Salimbanco at the Cedar Park Center in Cedar Park, TX. Being a native-born Montreal Canadian, I take a certain pride in Cirque du Soleil’s international success. The venue itself, The Cedar Park Center is a 55 million dollar establishment which opened its doors in 2009. This arena seats approximately 8,000 people and is the host location of the Texas Stars Hockey team. The Cedar Park Center holds many events such as concerts and family shows. I have attended several hockey games and other performances and there isn’t a bad seat in the house. Don’t let limited seats or high-priced premium seating deter you from attending any events held at The Cedar Park Center.
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Birth of Cirque du Soleil
In Baie-Saint-Paul, a quaint village just north of the St-Lawrence River near Quebec City, the idea of Cirque du Soleil was born. There, in the early 80s, young circus theatre entertainers led by Gilles Ste-Croix walked on stilts, juggled, danced & breathed fire. These talented young artists captured the hearts of residents and were known as Les Échassiers de Baie-Saint-Paul (the Baie-Saint-Paul Stiltwalkers). Already, the townsfolk were impressed and intrigued by the young performers, including one Guy Laliberté who would later found Cirque du Soleil.
In 1984, with the assistance of the Quebec government and as part of the 450th anniversary celebrations of Jacques Cartier’s arrival in Canada, the first production, Le Grand Tour debuts in the small Quebec town of Gaspé. It goes on to perform in 10 other cities throughout the province. The first blue-and-yellow big top seats 800. In 1985, after performing in Montreal, Sherbrooke and Quebec City, with Le Grand Tour, Cirque du Soleil leaves its home province for the first time to take its show to neighboring Ontario. It performs in Ottawa, Toronto and Niagara Falls and the show is simply named Cirque du Soleil.
Saltimbanco – Circus Extraordinaire
Cirque du Soleil explains that “Saltimbanco -from the Italian “saltare in banco”, which literally means “to jump on a bench”-explores the urban experience in all its myriad forms: the people who live there, their idiosyncrasies and likenesses, families and groups, the hustle and bustle of the street and the towering heights of skyscrapers. Between whirlwind and lull, prowess and poetry, Saltimbanco takes spectators on an allegorical and acrobatic journey into the heart of the city.
Saltimbanco is a Cirque du Soleil signature show inspired by the urban fabric of the metropolis and its colorful inhabitants. Decidedly baroque in its visual vocabulary, the show’s eclectic cast of characters draws spectators into a fanciful, dreamlike world, an imaginary city where diversity is a cause for hope. Saltimbanco features an international cast of 51 performers and musicians from more than 20 different countries.
Saltimbanco is not new, actually it is the longest running Cirque du Soleil touring show. It has been in touring for two decades beginning 1992. Epitomizing Cirque du Soleil’s spirit, Gilles Ste-Croix set out to highlight the company’s vibrant style. He sets the the stage explaining that “In 1992, we were preoccupied with our urban environment, because we were growing up,’’ he recalls. “We had children, and when we looked at the vision of the world of our future, it was very gloomy and dark. We wanted to project a more optimistic view of humans who can transform cities into pleasant environments for our children. That is why the set is a brilliant and colorful place where artists come and perform.” Satimbanco’s uniqueness also stems from the fact that it is the first show that I’ve seen with a unified story line. Giving a small glimpse into the acts themselves, Saltimbanco features breathtaking Adagio acrobatics, Chinese poles, juggling, [singlepic id=23 w=340 h=260 float=left]balancing on canes, boleadoras, the Russian Swing, trapeze, bungees, and straps. My personal favorites was watching two Hulk-like men doing something called “Hand-to-hand”, where you can truly admire the performer’s sheer power and unwavering sense of balance. The costumes in Saltimbanco are brightly colored, eccentric and eclectic. Each artist have about three to five costumes which can include up to 12 individual pieces. There are more than 250 pairs of custom-made shoes and I was stunned to discover that some get repainted before each performance. It’s no wonder the tour travels with its own washing machines, using only biodegradable detergent of course. Each artist spends about 90 minutes daily to apply their own make-up in their individual make-up station. What an outstanding production!
Saltimbanco is THE representative of the Golden Age of Cirque du Soleil. The production has a continuous momentum, each transition moves seamlessly forward, and every act is top, top notch. Even background characters contribute to the show’s polish – they move entirely in unison, down to the turn of their heads; they keep the stage visually engaging at all times; they highlight the main performers’ actions. Even acts in rotation – which can be hit or miss, were polished and maintained an organic fit with the rest of the production.
Music and Set
Inspired by urban life, the original Saltimbanco score was composed by René Dupéré. This beautiful soundtrack is performed live for every performance by five musicians and two singers performing on a raised platform. It is truly fascinating to hear this invented language, created uniquely for the show and derived from various languages including Arabic, Swedish and German. Dupéré is also responsible for creating the music from Cirque du Soleil’s Alegría which was nominated for a Grammy Award in 1995 and spent 65 weeks on Billboard’s World Music Chart. The albums Mystère and Kà also spent several weeks at the top of the Billboard charts.
Winning him a Gémeaux and a Gemini award, Saltimbanco set designer Michel Crête went above and beyond in successfully depicting the city where the powerful and the dispossessed live side by side. It’s a place where anything is possible. Cirque du Soleil says that “The set is an urban space stripped to its most essential elements.The rosace is a canopy of metal rings which hangs above the stage. Light ﬁlters through it as it would through the branches of a tree or through a stained glass window. Saltimbanco uses different colored gels, the lighting gives a cinematic effect by bringing characters in and out of focus depending on their position on the the stage and on the colour of their costumes.The lighting is also used to create spaces by focusing on particular areas while leaving the rest of the stage in obscurity.”
Au Revoir Saltimbanco
As Cirque du Soleil counts down the days to Saltimbanco’s retirement, they can take a pride in it’s successful two-decade run. Created in 1992, Ste-Croix lovingly recalls “It’s sort of my first love” and he was closely involved with it’s creation and success. Following this Cedar Park, TX tour, Saltimbanco returns home to Montreal, Canada where it will retire. In this own words, Gilles Ste-Croix explains just how much Saltimbanco means to him: [embedplusvideo height=”388″ width=”640″ standard=”http://www.youtube.com/v/S283T1WxiUs?fs=1&hd=1″ vars=”ytid=S283T1WxiUs&width=640&height=388&start=&stop=&rs=w&hd=1&autoplay=0&react=1&chapters=¬es=” id=”ep3449″ /]
This jaw-dropping performance found ways to engage the audience, including pulling them on stage for skits. The beautifully colorful set amplified the outfits of the performers. The pure skill, mastery and strength demonstrated through the acrobatics and gymnastics left myself and the others in my party awestruck. Despite have seen other Cirque performance, Saltimbanco was delightfully entertaining with bright colored scenery, beautiful music, playful characters, and eye popping action. If you are fortunate enough to be in an area hosting the last few scheduled performances before its retirement, do not hesitate, do not miss your chance to see this grand treasure.