The Clown (Salvador Salangstrang) walks through the audience, dressed as an astronaut, bouncing along as if doing a spacewalk. He warms up the crowd with calls of cooee, but also by orchestrating a communal rendition of the theme from 2001: A Space Odyssey, “Also sprach Zarathustra” – with the audience on vocals and two volunteers on drums.
“We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade…”
With these words from President John F. Kennedy, we are brought into the 1960s and the space race. A team of astronauts walks onto the stage – the men of the Apollo moon missions – and a voiceover describes their fitness, strength and the precise nature of their work.
And with that, Cirque Stratosphere begins; a show full of athleticism that requires precision from the acrobats and performers on stage. The background of the race to the moon is backdrop, colour and movement – a subtle trajectory from earth to the stars. The real strength of the show is in the incredible feats of daring and skill on display.
We begin with the Meteor Master (Emma Dutton) on an aerial hoop, spinning, twirling and flexing high in the air above the stage. Simple, but daring, it only hints at where the show is headed and where it will end up. It seems as if each and every act will upstage the previous performance – not a higher feat of skill, but a higher risk with more wow factor.
There’s jaw-dropping displays strength and athleticism in Planetary Prodigy (pole performer Polina Volchek) or The Orbiter (Anna Lewandowska in a Cyr Wheel), but the risk of injury in Duo Velocity (duo skaters, sometimes spinning from one another’s necks) or Galactus Gods (a hand-to-hand pair, one of whom balances on top of the other’s head) makes these moments more inspiring of awe.
The show builds and builds toward The Cosmonaut (Oleg Spigin) who lulls the audience into a false sense of security with some expected flips and turns on trapeze, but ratchets up the tension as the trapeze starts to turn in a large circle – and Spigin begins to balance on his head and later holds himself up only by his teeth.
The spectacular finale, The Flyers Valencia, on their Wheel of Death, has to be seen to be believed. The contraption itself is impressive enough, but as it spins and spins, it’s easy to see things going very wrong for performers Roy Miller and Luis Romero. In fact, at two points, I thought one performer had lost his footing – which would have been a disaster, if he hadn’t recovered a split second later. Heart stopping.
My only disappointment was in the period backdrop of the space race, which relegates most of the female characters to being housewives or “sexy scientists”. There is a nod to female support staff at NASA, but the costumes demean their historic roles. With everyone on stage at prime physical strength and agility, it’s a pity there were some stereotypical gendered tropes thrown into the mix.
This is a thrill ride, which occasionally takes a breath, the crowd entertained by two hosts - The Clown and Tape Face, while new tricks are set up in the darkness. It’s suitable for the whole family, young and old. I had a five-year-old with me and he was in a joy-filled mood much of the time, clapping through most of the second half and only occasionally restless.
|All photos: Jordan Munns