Possibly Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky dreamed of the day when his violin concerto would be played by a woman suspended 12 feet in the air, while a shirtless gymnast alternated one-armed handstands on the stage. If so, he’d have been transported by “Cirque Musica,” the strangest hybrid I’ve seen in the Charlotte Symphony’s Pops series.
The piece combines classics (most of them light) played by the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra with acrobatics and gymnastics by Cirque du Soleil artists. It varies from breathtaking to bewitching. Except in flaccid comic routines assigned to the host, it’s never boring. (He redeems himself on a musical saw during The Beatles’ “Let It Be.” That’s a sentence I never expected to write.)
Some scenes have been choreographed to fit their music: Noemi Espana whirls eight rings as Dukas’ “Sorcerer’s Apprentice” swirls to its mad climax, and the segment has wit and flair. Some have nothing to do with the aural backdrop: Rietta Wallenda and Lyric Wallenda Arestov dazzle us on a single pole hanging from the ceiling, but what’s the tie to the first movement of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony?
Occasionally, the orchestra plays alone for conductor Albert-George Schram: John Williams’ “Star Wars” and “Superman” compsitions let performers rest and change clothes. (Trombonist John Bartlett, working with a growling mute and playing fluidly, anchors the brass-heavy program.)
Inconsequential bits composed by Cirque’s Marcelo Zarvos pass time. The host comes out to munch a sandwich or do a dancing-with-an-inanimate-object routine stolen from “Singin’ in the Rain.”
Mainly, though, we can’t take our eyes off the versatile performers who convert the Belk Theater stage into a playground. The audience especially took to 11-year-old Elan Espana, whose routine with spools on a string climaxed to the giddy overture from “William Tell.”
Once or twice, performers did something that wasn’t perfect, continuing with a broad smile and thus reminding us they’re human. Those rare moments made the superhuman things they accomplished even more enjoyable.