The circus comes to the symphony

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Photo: Shirley Nadeau

Tania Burke of the Cirque de la Symphonie performs on aerial silks while the Orchestre Symphonique de Québec accompanies her with a movement from Brahms’ Symphony No. 3 in F Major. 

The circus was definitely "in town" last weekend. 

While the Cirque du Soleil kept folks amused with its giant egg at the Videotron Centre last week, the Orchestre symphonique de Québec was joined onstage at the Grand Théâtre by the Cirque de la Symphonie who, together, dazzled audiences on Friday and Saturday evening with their blend of classical music and circus arts.  

The Cirque de la Symphonie is an acrobatic troupe that brings the magic of the circus to the concert hall. Its performers include world-record holders, gold-medal winners of international competitions and even Olympic athletes. Each performance is choreographed to a classical masterpiece, and adds a striking visual element to the concert experience. The Cirque de la Symphonie is the only circus troupe in the world that performs exclusively with symphony orchestras. It has performed with over 100 orchestras around the world in sold-out venues. 

One of the leaders of the troupe, Vitalii Buza, was a gymnast with the Russian National team, who eventually joined the Moscow State Circus as a professional acrobat. Together Buza and Nicolas Ellis, the assistant conductor of the OSQ, selected the music from a list of compositions suggested by the Cirque. 

The result was the performance of a magical mix of music by Dvorak, Brahms, Bizet, Khachaturian, Wagner, Tchaikovsky, Offenbach, Rimski-Korsakov and others, while acrobats, contortionists, dancers and jugglers performed onstage. Audience members in the front rows gasped in awe as an aerialist, suspended from long straps attached to his wrists, flew directly over their heads to Wagner's "Ride of the Valkyries." 

There was an amusing juggler who encouraged members of the audience to take part in his act, and a magic act, during which the maestro's jacket - poof - disappeared. Other performances included a ribbon dancer, a balancing act and a Cyr wheel performer. 

The Cyr wheel is a large metal ring some six feet in diameter in which the performer stands and holds onto the rim while spinning around the stage like a gyroscope. It is named after Daniel Cyr, co-founder of the Cirque Éloize, who reinvented it as a circus apparatus at the end of the 20th century. 

At the Friday morning rehearsal, two groups of students had the opportunity to watch the artists prepare for their performance that evening. While the musicians took a well-deserved break, OSQ conductor Nicolas Ellis and Vitalii Buza came down into the audience to chat and answer questions.  

Students from the École de cirque de Disraeli near Thetford were particularly thrilled to be able to ask questions. One student asked Buza, "Are you ever afraid when you perform so high up?" Buza, who is one of the aerial performers, replied that he is naturally nervous before a performance but, as a well-trained professional, he is confident he'll do his best. He did add, however, that in 2011 he had a serious fall from 30 feet in the air, resulting in severe injuries. It took him a year and a half to recover and be ready to return to the stage. 

As the photos with this article were taken during the rehearsal, the performers and musicians are not wearing their concert costumes.