News Column

Fort Wayne Philharmonic and Cirque Mechanics partner for Saturday Pops concerts

April 24, 2014

By Kevin Kilbane, The News-Sentinel (Fort Wayne, Ind.)



April 24--Fort Wayne Philharmonic Associate Conductor Sameer Patel will have his concentration tested during the orchestra's two Pops series concerts Saturday at the Embassy Theatre.

During portions of the concerts at 2 and 8 p.m., Patel will conduct from the podium as a towering mechanical structure rotates around and over him -- with acrobats, jugglers, hand-balancers and contortionists performing on it.

It's music meets circus-style entertainment as The Phil welcomes Cirque Mechanics to share the stage.

The cirque artists will perform at the front of the stage while Phil musicians present a musical backdrop of well-known classical pieces, such as Aaron Copland's "Fanfare for the Common Man," a selection from Antonio Vivaldi's "The Four Seasons" and Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky's "Danse Chinoise" from "The Nutcracker."

Las Vegas-based Cirque Mechanics was founded 10 years ago by Chris Lashua, who was a top BMX freestyle rider in the late 1980s.

Lashua left competitive freestyle riding in the early 1990s and worked as a performer with Cirque du Soleil, the renowned circus-style entertainment company.

But his interest always revolved around the interaction of artist and machine, so he left after nearly 10 years to pursue that passion. He founded Cirque Mechanics in 2004.

In his troupe's shows, the machine -- which looks like a post-Victorian era, scaffold-like structure -- is as much a part of the event as the artists who perform on it.

"We want to open up the clock doors and show the beauty of it," he said of their stage machinery.

Lashua, speaking during a recent phone interview, said the machine they will use at Saturday's concerts here is the Gantry Bike. It stands 22 feet tall and weighs 2,200 pounds. It has large, spoked wheels along with seats and pedals for two "movers," whose pedaling rotates the entire structure during performances.

Lashua said he originally planned on Cirque Mechanics presenting shows on its own. It does, performing frequently at art festivals and corporate and other events.

Then an orchestra invited them to perform in front of it while its musicians played a concert.

"That was a pretty special thing," he said. "It kind of took my by surprise."

They have been open to performing with orchestras ever since.

Despite all of the activity on stage, distraction hasn't been a problem for either orchestra musicians or Cirque Mechanics artists, Lashua said.

"They are pros at doing what they are doing, and likewise for us," said of musicians.

He just has to be careful about how close the Gantry Bike gets to the orchestra, noting the huge device can move within inches of a $10,000 violin.

During rehearsals, "you can see musicians watch the thing rotate," he added.

The Gantry Bike does take work to set up because they transport it in about 80 pieces, ranging from sections 16 feet long to chains, gears and sprockets, he said. They need about four hours to assemble it and four hours to add aesthetic touches and make sure all components work properly.

But it is ideal for cirque artists because, no matter what type of venue they are in, their performance space on the Gantry Bike remains the same at each location, Lashua said.

That allows Cirque Mechanics artists to focus on their performance and connecting with the audience, he said, which makes for a great show.

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Source: News-Sentinel (Fort Wayne, IN)