Entertainment

Symphony sets stage for next generation of Wallendas in Pops Cirque Musica

For some families, it’s a given that the children will likely follow in the footsteps of their ancestors.

For seventh-generation circus performer Lyric Wallenda, entering the family business meant her professional debut was an aerial ballet that saw her dangling from a rope at age 5 in an act called “The Spanish Web.”

At 11, she was spinning by her neck suspended high in the air from a loop held by her mother, Rietta, who balanced upside down on the “Aerial Perch” fastened only by one foot. The mother/daughter team still performs the act – the Helicopter Neck Spin passed down from Rietta’s grandmother and aunt – but with a twist.

“When I turned 18, my mom said, ‘You’re starting to outgrow me.’ So we switched roles,” says Lyric Wallenda, calling from Memphis – where she and her family performed Monday during halftime at a Grizzlies’ game.

This weekend, they’ll perform for a much different crowd as part of Charlotte Symphony Pops: Cirque Musica, a symphony-meets-circus collaboration with shows Friday and Saturday at Belk Theater.

“Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony,” for instance, scores the stunning “Aerial Perch.”

“It gives people almost a double treat,” Wallenda says of performing high-flying acrobatics with the added intensity of a live orchestra. “Every orchestra plays a little differently and has their own style, which makes it a bit challenging.”

But the performers aren’t flying by the seat of their tights.

“We do have time to rehearse with the orchestra,” she says. “The conductors are great. They ask us about (changing tempo). They understand it’s difficult to speed up your routine.”

Led by patriarch Karl Wallenda, the German high-wire act the Great Wallendas first came to the U.S. in 1928, when they made their debut at Madison Square Garden with Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey. They toured with the circus giant for 17 years before Wallenda created his own circus.

The Wallendas aren’t the only ones defying gravity in Cirque Musica, though. Simon Arestov, Wallenda’s Russian husband, performs the Rolla Bolla balancing act. The couple bounces between its Sarasota, Fla., home, a 40-foot trailer and hotels while performing at sporting events, fairs and productions like Cirque Musica.

Between now and the end of the year, Cirque Musica’s Holiday Spectacular will take them from Charlotte to Milwaukee, then to the Pacific Northwest for shows in Seattle and British Columbia in Canada, before wrapping the year in Portland, Ore., on Dec. 19.

Says Wallenda, with a laugh: “I don’t know how I’ll get my Christmas shopping done.”

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