“Mission Control, I think we’re in Sydney”. So begins the vocal soundtrack accompanying much of the action in Cirque Stratosphere, a new “space themed circus” promising “death-defying, logic-imploding, head-spinning stunts and aerial acts”, produced by Simon Painter and Tim Lawson, the makers of Circus 1903, Le Noir and The Illusionists.
The vocal recording has the fuzzy, hissy sound of messages between mission control and astronauts in space, and since it’s often featured on top of booming music you can’t hear a lot of what’s said, but you get the idea.
The Clown (Salvador Salangsang). Photograph © Jordan Munns
The opening number sees The Clown (Salvador Salangsang) get two audience members up on stage to play drums – which turn out to be the drum rolls in the iconic opening of Strauss’s Also Sprach Zarathustra, famously used in 2001: A Space Odyssey – a fun start for the space themed show. The framing device also includes people marching on stage dressed in space suits, and a sequence in which giant inflated balls resembling the Earth are paraded around to cover a scene change. There’s flashing, colourful strobe lighting and a pounding soundtrack, but the acts themselves rarely feel space-agey, logic-imploding or stratospheric to be honest.
In fact, if you’ve been to many circuses you will have seen all the different acts before, and often more imaginatively presented, but the audience at the Sydney Opera House embraced the show with alacrity.
Submergence (Nicolas-Yang Wang and Shengpeng Nie) Hoop Diving
Highlights at the performance I saw included the hoop diving by Submergence (Nicolas-Yang Wang and Shengpeng Nie) who performed with perfect precision and plenty of pizzazz; the Washington Trapeze by Oleg Spigin, who balanced on his head and on his mouth; the Pole act by Polina Volchek who hung in a wide star shape on the side of the pole held aloft by her feet; and the Hand to Hand act by the ultra-strong, flexible Dmitry Makrushnin and Oleg Bespalov. A skit in which Tape Face (Steve Capps) and an audience member fought a duel with balloons and stapler guns was pretty funny, while The Clown disappeared inside a giant balloon to the audience’s delight.
The skill levels were a bit hit and miss at times. The teeterboard act definitely teetered with hardly a clean landing, and Duo Velocity, Evgenii Isaev and Natalia Korzhukova, who perform on roller skates on a tiny stage, came a cropper at the end of their routine, tumbling off the stage – but the audience gave them one of the biggest cheers of the night, clearly appreciating the mistakes as indicative of the challenge and danger involved.
Duo Velocity (Evgenii Isaev and Natalia Korzhukova). Photograph © Jordan Munns
The Wheel of Death – performed here by Roy Miller and Luis Romero from The Flyers Valencia – always has you watching with your heart in your mouth. When one of them put on a blindfold it felt too dangerous by half, but mercifully he ripped it off pretty quickly, and the audience roared its approval.
The information on the SOH website warns you that the music is loud – and it sure is. Imagine the pumping crescendo at the biggest moment in an action movie; the pulse-racing, bombastic soundtrack for Cirque Stratosphere feels like that for much of the show. You’ll either find it exhausting or enjoyably dramatic.
The Flyers Valencia in the Wheel of Death. Photograph © Jordan Munns
Cirque Stratosphere doesn’t soar quite as high as its title suggests but the audience seemed to love it – so much so that new dates have been added in Sydney.