Nov. 27--Deploying a well-drilled army of contortionists, jugglers and gymnasts, "Cirque Dreams Holidaze" will spin, twist and twirl its way around the Roanoke Performing Arts Theatre this Sunday, as the internationally assembled cast of acrobats presents a high-flying extravaganza created by director Neil Goldberg.
Like his multi-talented crew, Goldberg's resume is an extensive dossier of professional experience, mainly in the neighborhood of planning large-scale entertainment events, from Miss Universe pageants to Super Bowls, before he began developing motley renderings of his very own traveling three-ring circus (sans animals) in the mid-1990s.
One of his first touring productions, "Cirque Ingenieux," depicted the mystical journey of young Sarah, a 12-year-old Russian girl who was swept away into an imaginary dreamland after watching an awe-inspiring trapeze artist swing with reckless abandon at the circus.
Later, in 2008, Goldberg opened "Cirque Dreams Jungle Fantasy" on Broadway, where the pliable troupe executed its stunts with the typical daredevil panache and mind-blowing elasticity that's come to define these kinds of visually memorable revues.
"'Holidaze' is no exception," Goldberg said by phone last week from tour rehearsals in Lakeland, Fla. "We have over 30 artists from all over the world, and they're all at the top of their game. In some cases, they're the only ones who do what they do."
That's brought about frequent comparisons to the Canadian-based juggernaut Cirque du Soleil. In fact, the global conglomerate filed a trademark infringement lawsuit against the New York native's company in 1997, which ended several years later when Goldberg prevailed in court and was allowed to continue using the familiar name.
But where that Cirque is the 300-pound gorilla of whiz-bang bedlam, a mega-franchise whose venues range from towering big tops to enormous Vegas arenas, Goldberg's is a cheerful chimpanzee, less imposing but engagingly frisky, designed to fit into standard proscenium theaters with minimal fuss.
"When I came up with the 'Holidaze' concept, I think a lot people in the country, especially the buyers who purchase these things, sort of thought I was crazy," he said. "It was like, 'How are you gonna take a cirque show and celebrate the holiday season?' Here we are five years later, and these tours are booked through 2017. We've got three companies going out simultaneously. The formula is the same, but we keep improving upon it. Because, for me, as an artist, I always want to get better at what I'm doing."
The centerpiece of the production is a 30-foot-tall steel-framed Christmas tree that reveals a festive group of living ornaments, descending from their lofty perches to tell a piece of the story through aerial feats that stretch the bounds of possibility. There are daringly balanced penguins, airborne gingerbread men, tightrope-walking toy soldiers and soaring reindeer, to name a few.
Vladimir Dovgan, a Ukrainian performer who started working with Goldberg's Cirque Dreams corporation in 2000, is part of several precarious routines. For one particularly risky maneuver, he stands atop a cylinder, rolling back and forth, while building a pyramid of steady hysteria high above the stage floor.
"I would say my act would be something where I have to concentrate the most," Dovgan said during a later interview from Lakeland. "It's not that it's difficult, because I've been doing it for almost 20 years. But I still have to do a lot of work. I have to prepare it and concentrate and be in shape. It takes a lot of training, eating right, all that stuff."
Goldberg complements the athletic triumphs with embellished costumes, elaborate sets and heavily synthesized music, which includes revved-up versions of seasonal classics like "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree," "Jingle Bell Rock" and "Winter Wonderland."
"I just think that everyone should have an opportunity to not just have a theater experience, but be able to see a holiday stage spectacular," Goldberg said. "That's really what this show is. It's not necessarily a cirque show. It's part cirque, part Broadway musical, part something for everyone in the family. You will be blown away, man. I'm tellin' ya. It's like a kaleidoscope of magic, color and action on the stage."
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