There is plenty of color and spectacle for the little ones and dexterous skill for the big kids (aka adults), as Cirque Dreams Holidaze dazzles at the Providence Performing Arts Center through December 18.
A LIVING ORNAMENT Dancers in Cirque Dreams Holidaze.
Outnumbering and outdoing the characters in The Nutcracker Suite, Christmas decorations come alive to entertain us. They are world-class circus performers, the only difference being the holiday theme costumes they wear.
There is a marching soldier strutting his stuff on a high wire (okay, rope), working up to backflips. Not to be outdone, a gingerbread man is repeatedly flipped backwards by another, and yet the stage isn't littered with crumbs in the aftermath. Passive observer Clara in Nutcracker would be red and green with envy, as a girl gets to do some ambitious acrobatics with Santa. And so on.
Ever since Cirque du Soleil set new standards for American audiences, who now expect more than mistreated tigers and three-ball juggling, circuses have to be Europeanized into a "cirque" to pull in the big crowds. Fortunately, in this case the talent quotient has also been upped.
This all has been created by the imaginative Neil Goldberg, who made a Broadway hit out of Cirque Dreams Jungle Fantasy. He has directed some 30 performers from around the world, as snowmen balance, puppets sing carols, and elves skip. There's a wobbly penguin from Moldova, a rag doll from Ukraine, and twin dolls from Mongolia.
Of course, given the too-familiar holiday theme and corresponding images, you may experience a bit of snowblindness, but it'll be worth rubbing your eyes and gazing onward. Some iconic sights have been refreshed: Santa is all in white; a lovely Ice Queen occasionally sings, providing a sort of narration.
In this fantasy, which has been touring for three years with two troupes, Christmas ornaments come to life. Penguins totter on balance boards. Pilobilus-like candy canes wander across the background like inchworms. There are cavorting elves, flying reindeer, and Santa's helpers galore.
Thankfully, audiences aren't asked to collude with endangering trapezists performing without a net, but some of these acts aren't exactly safe. A muscular man high above the stage, unwinding from lengths of cloth, does need to keep his life insurance up to date. And a couple taking turns dangling way up there, supported crooked feet to crooked feet, is quite the nail-biter.
Physical coordination and skill is the main offering. A marvelous juggler controls a cascade of eight balls. A male and a female contortionist become human sculptures. Closing the first act, a man on his back balances a ladder on his hands as a boy climbs up to a platform angled from its top and ends up twirling a baton on his feet. As circus performers undoubtedly say to their worried mothers, it's not dangerous if you know what you're doing.
They're not all brilliant performances, though. We get some padding as two or three acts never reach the high level of the rest. Watching two men toss rings over each other's head or a couple spinning (and spinning, and spinning) was like waiting for punchlines that never came. And too often there was distracting cutesy activity by characters on the periphery of center stage acts, as though visual multitasking is necessary to keep us from looking away to Twitter our followers.