Cirque Dreams Illuminations

Durham Performing Arts Center
Through Sept. 20

I’d been looking forward to transporting circus acts, but on Tuesday, Sept. 15, when Cirque Productions of Pompano Beach, Fla., premiered its new show, Cirque Dreams Illuminations, as the season-opener in the 2009-2010 SunTrust Broadway Series at the Durham Performing Arts Center, I was not carried away by delight.

This amalgam of songs, dance numbers and traditional circus feats of skill and strength ostensibly follows a storyline concerning transformation in a stylized urban setting (train platform, steel bridge supports, graffiti), but plot is hardly the point of this entertainment.

Cirque Productions and its Cirque Dreams “brands” have no relationship to the world-famous Cirque du Soleil, and it is important to understand that in order to avoid disappointment, as this Cirque Dreams production lacks the consummate dramatic, visual and physical artistry associated with Cirque du Soleil.

Part of the appeal of circus, whether of the “cirque” variety or the Barnum and Bailey variety, is that difficult and dangerous physical feats are carried beyond what seems possiblethey take their performers beyond the realm of normality and show them to us as super-human as they create their death-defying beauty. Although many of the performers seem quite skilled, super-humanity appears only occasionally in Illuminations; more frequently the feats seem merely competent, workmanlike.

A notable exception to this show’s lack of distinction was the performance of two “foot manipulators,” one of whom provides a platform with his feet, from and to which the other springs in an incredible series of circular flips through the air.

The other beautiful and fascinating act involves trapezes converted from single bars into cubes, with several lithe aerialists arching in and out of them. This was impressive, but like all the acts, difficult to appreciate because several pointless, unrelated things were happening on stage at the same time.

Never did we see the marvel and majesty of the circus players without our view being interrupted by such things as dancing trash cans parading across upstage. And the gritty urban trash motif was taken much too far when three “vaudevillians” pulled toilet seats out of a bin and wore them around their necks.

The frenetic activity, without rhythm or resolution, is driven by assault-level sound of the type you might hear in a roller rink, or around the rides at the State Fair. Although absent of any mystery or suspense, the show is dangerousto your hearing. Earplugs recommended for your safety and comfort.