A Circus That You See — and Hear

SARASOTA, Fla. — Long live the beautiful lady on the flying trapeze in the big arena and the magic of a Sunday afternoon in a world upside down — a circus performed with a 150-voice chorale and a symphony orchestra.

There is no sawdust on the floor and no pink lemonade for Cirque des Voix. Missing is a circus band blaring “Barnum & Bailey’s Favorite.” Instead, a semi-circle of violins and cellos and French horns plays the music of “1492: Conquest of Paradise” for a hand-balancing act.

This is taking the circus to a new level. A packed crowd of 1,000 cheers and gives the performance a standing ovation. Some paid as much as $45 for their seats.

HERE IS AN EXCITING, enchanting show. It is bringing the soul of “The Greatest Show on Earth” to a remarkable level of class. Performers like this can only be assembled in a circus city like Sarasota; nowhere else is there such a gathering of talent.

It would be difficult to assemble the circus-minded Sarasota Key Chorale at the i wireless Center in Moline to sing John Williams’ “Themes From ‘The Lost World’” while four members of the Flying Wallendas are walking a thin cable and risking their necks high above the audience heads.

There are moments when you are so thrilled by a lovely aerialist’s cloud swing that you cannot pay attention to the combined symphony and chorale music, “Dark Night of the Soul.”

All through this performance I keep thinking how — in its circusy way — it reminds me of the Holiday Pops at the i wireless — the choir, the symphony, the performers, the color, the adoring crowd. Steve Jobman, the Quad-City “Pops” director, should fly down to Sarasota next holiday season when Cirque des Voix is to be performed with a Christmas theme.

THIS EARLY SPRING performance has been rehearsed and fine-tuned so choir and symphony are in synch with the performers. What a challenge it was for symphony and voices to be in tune-time as the Wallendas do their four-high bicycle pyramid 50 feet in the air.

“It is a circus that is quite different and it is thrilling — with such musical accompaniment to the acts,” says Pedro Reis, a former aerialist who now runs the widely hailed Circus Sarasota, which is performed in a Camelot-like tent. He is in a tuxedo to introduce the Cirque des Voix, and gives us a little wave when it is time for the appearance of Dolly Jacobs, his wife and the co-owner of Circus Sarasota.

I cannot take my eyes off Dolly, in her bird-like swirls, sometimes with her flying partner. She is the first lady of the circus, and honored by Circus Monaco (Pulitzer of the circus world) as the world’s great aerialist of all time. I pay no attention to the music, which is so appropriate. She soars to “Across the Vast, Eternal Sky” and “Walking in the Air.”

The Sarasota Herald’s reviewer said of Dolly: “No matter how many times you see her, Jacobs manages to create magical and ethereal beauty in her performances.”

We ARE sitting in the front row, so close to the thick riggings that I can touch them and feel their tense strains as young women and Spider-Man slide from the top of the arena and twist and turn on long strands of colored silk. It is one of the scariest and most dangerous acts in the the circus world of performing.

At intermission, Tom and Jane Rudbeck of Davenport walk by, suggesting that I dig into their box of popcorn. “We expected to see you here,” he says.

In my long life, I have likely seen a hundred or so circuses. Never have I seen, or heard, one as entrancing as Cirque des Voix.