Leading the musical accompaniment for a variety of circus acts brings out the ham and showman in Key Chorale Artistic Director Joseph Caulkins.
He’s the conductor, host and hyperbolic ringmaster for the latest edition of Cirques des Voix, the inventive and continually surprising collaboration between the chorus, Circus Sarasota and members of the Sarasota Orchestra.
Rikki Hettig-Rolfe Meaux, for example, doesn’t just perform acrobatic moves on the aerial silks, she creates “aerial sculptures,” he says, before she wraps long strands of fabric around her body and lets herself drop in a graceful style.
Caulkins was a lively host for this latest edition with its holiday theme, even on an afternoon when the warm temperatures made it seem like anything but Christmas time.
These Cirque shows provide a fun way for circus fans to learn to appreciate the sounds of Key Chorale and vice versa. Both the musicians and chorus took turns in the spotlight, but they mostly served as a musical backdrop to some thrilling circus acts that demand more of your attention.
Even when the orchestra was playing a lively “The Little Drummer Boy,” it was difficult to fully listen to the music while wire walker Capitolino Mitrovich was maneuvering his way across the high wire and getting tangled up with a jump rope, providing a few unexpected thrills that ended safely. You may have been aware that the song was playing, but your mind was with Mitrovich him on the wire.
I felt similar reactions watching Gena Cristiani, who juggled a bowler hat on a couple of sticks, as well as Hula Hoops, balls and pins, while the chorus sang “Carol of the Bells” and “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.” They sounded nice, but you don’t take your eyes off Cristiani
And it was almost impossible to keep your ear fully on the chorus singing movie and video game songs by Penka Kouneva while Hans Peter Winn was spinning over and around the big top on the Wheel of Destiny, an act I usually watch with slightly covered eyes.
The musical accompaniment worked better in some acts than others. The Risley or foot balancing act had Miles Ashton doing seriously high backflips off George Coronas, but not always in time to the musical rhythms of a medley of Hanukkah songs.
The best combination of music and circus came during the graceful performance of aerialist Dolly Jacobs, who soared around the big top in perfect time to Ola Gjeilo’s ethereal “Across the Vast Eternal Sky.” The chorus also sang a tender version of Gjeilo’s “Tundra.”
As pretty as the music sounded, particularly during a subtle version of “The First Noel,” it was often difficult to hear the words because of the tent acoustics, aside from the audience sing-along to “White Christmas.
Clowns Karen Bell and Robin Eurich got some laughs with their antics during a vibrant version of “The Twelve Days of Christmas” but were at their best in a comically off-balance high-wire act.