Cirque de la Symphonie brings classical sounds, high-flying stunts

The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Cirque de la Symphonie, featuring Michael Krajewski, conductor, 8 p.m., Friday, Nov. 29, and Saturday, Nov. 30; tickets, $22-60; Symphony Hall, Woodruff Arts Center, 1280 Peachtree St. NE

Atlanta; 404-733-4900;;

This weekend visitors to the Cirque de la Symphonie will experience two distinct thrills simultaneously.

There’s the subtle pleasure of “Samson and Delilah” from French composer Saint-Saëns, performed by the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra.

Then there’s a delightful terror as a woman flies 15 feet above the violins, hanging by her toes.

Both joys — of the high arts and the circus arts — come together when this Georgia-based group of acrobats takes the stage, which they do 60 times a year, accompanying symphony orchestras around the world.

Cirque co-founder Alexander Streltsov, 35, a Suwanee resident, says the big difference between his ensemble and other troupes, including the pre-eminent Cirque du Soleil, is that Streltsov’s company serves the orchestra, rather than vice versa.

“When we came up with this concept, the idea was to be eye candy for the symphony music,” said Streltsov. Therefore, rather than travel with their own musicians, the group sets their aerial equipment up in symphony halls, performing with such orchestras as the Boston Pops, the Philadelphia Symphony and the ASO.

Streltsov is a Russian emigre and veteran of the Moscow Circus, who entered the University of Georgia at age 17 to improve his English and decided to stay in Georgia.

While Streltsov was an undergraduate at UGA he continued performing in circuses, on Broadway and in Las Vegas. In 1999 he was invited to collaborate with Erich Kunzel, director of the Cincinnati Pops, which led to the creation of Cirque de la Symphonie with co-founder Bill Allen.

Streltsov oversees the technical demands of the show, recruits circus performers and also contributes his own act, juggling in one section and performing in an aerial duo with Christine Van Loo while hanging from silk “straps” on high.

“In our show,” said Streltsov, “the storyline is the music itself.”

How do boisterous stunts of strength and daring mesh with the genteel world of classical music? The combination is surprisingly successful and prompts sellouts in most venues, said Allen. Instead of being greeted by the respectful silence, the classical musicians in Cirque de la Symphonie performances hear cheers, gasps and applause sprinkled throughout the evening.

Some of those gasps come from the musicians: “They are drop-jawed,” said Aloysia Gavre, who performs an acrobatic tango and also an aerial act on a hoop suspended above the stage. “They say ‘I wish I could watch more! I wish I could play this piece without looking at the sheet music because I want to see more!’”

During part of Gavre’s high-flying routine she swings in giant circles over the audience and orchestra. As she rockets past the string sections, “I always make eyes at the cellists,” she said.

Gavre is a long-time performer with the Cirque du Soleil, and directs her own school of the circus arts in Los Angeles. Most of the 10 acrobats who will perform Saturday and Sunday live outside Georgia; many have regular “civilian” jobs, and perform on weekends. Hula hoop spinner Irina Burdetsky of Fort Lee, N.J., also works as a physical therapist. Like Streltsov, she was trained at the Moscow Circus, and is a third generation circus performer. But she’s found a happy medium as a weekend performer, who can still spend time with her five-year-old daughter without taking the child on the road.

While the circus artists help bring a new audience to the symphony, they are also inspired by the music that surrounds them during performances. “We know what the piped music is,” said Streltsov. “There is no way to compare that with the live orchestra. When you’re on the stage you’ve got this power blowing through your body to the audience. It boosts you up so much. None of the piped music can do that.”