News Column

Cirque du Surreal: Acrobatic 'Taganai' extravaganza mixes weird, wonderful

June 26, 2014

By John Beifuss, The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, Tenn.

June 26--Kids used to dream of running away to join the circus, to caper within three rings of fun with clowns and lions and acrobats.

Do any now dream of joining a "Cirque"? The prospect seems more daunting. The new brand of "Cirque-style production" is high concept as well as high altitude, and it requires highly skilled aerialists, contortionists and even motorcyclists to enact its high-risk scenarios, intended for adults as well as young people.

Arriving this weekend for a two-week residency at the Millennium Theater in Gold Strike Casino Resort in Tunica County, "Taganai" -- the name reportedly comes from a traditional Eurasian tribal term meaning "moon holder," a reference to the skyscraping peaks of the Ural Mountain range -- is a creation of longtime Russian circus performer and impresario Misha Matorin, founder of DreamCast Entertainment.

The company develops what Matorin calls "theatrical extravaganzas" in the manner of Cirque du Soleil, which introduced its character-driven, animal-free update of traditional circus entertainment in 1984. The 90-minute "Taganai" show, he said, is an "interpretation" of Lewis Carroll and "The Picture of Dorian Gray," a claim you can't imagine ever was made by P.T. Barnum or Bozo the Clown.

In "Taganai," the lead character is a comedic painter, pulled through a picture frame into a hidden world of "dreamlike costumes and strange characters," where he encounters a naughty, pointy-eared elf who acts as his guide and various "ghosts" whose astonishing and seemingly death-defying antics make up the bulk of the show.

These include wire walkers, balance artists, contortionists and the motorcycle riders who race circles inside the so-called "Globe of Death," risking collision as their paths crisscross at ever-increasing speeds.

The narrative, obviously, is surreal. Said Matorin: "When people ask me for an explanation about what it means, I say, 'Well, what did you see?'"

More important, the athletic and acrobatic skill on display is entirely real, which makes it special in an age when most of the daredevil stunts audiences see, in the movies and on television, are computer-assisted illusions. The "Taganai" show employs more than 20 performers in its ballyhooed "multinational cast," which includes Armenians, Ukrainians, Russians, Spaniards, Portuguese and Americans.

Matorin, 49, describes himself as "a circus freak, let's put it this way." His parents performed with the Moscow Circus, so "I grew up in a circus atmosphere. It's kind of in my blood, my knowledge of this art."

Matorin worked as an aerialist with the Moscow Circus and then Cirque du Soleil. Twenty years ago, he formed his own company, DreamCast, in Las Vegas, to produce shows for the corporate market. Eventually, he was recruited by MGM Resorts International to produce a show for Beau Rivage, a waterfront casino in Biloxi. The show was such a success that he began developing productions for other casinos, giving them exotic names: "Ezuru" (with elements of kung fu), "Balagan" (drawing from the commedia dell'arte tradition of masked performance), and so on.

Matorin said circuses and circus-type shows may be unusual in the U.S. but remain very active in Europe.

"Circus is always in a spiral; there are always ups and downs," he said. "It's hard to say if it's dying or progressing."


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Source: Commercial Appeal (Memphis, TN)

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