story by Liza Simon
photo Courtesy Cirque Hawaii
In the midst of teaching them hula-inflected numbers, local choreographer Corrina Brillon didn’t expect the Russian acrobats of Cirque Hawai‘i to react with vhat-a-country! astonishment when she suggested they go out for an ice cream break.
“They’re 100 percent focused on the performance—to even think of sparing time for an ice cream cone on the beach… that’s paradise!” she laughs, while admitting to being awed by the “dedication that has made them world-class.”
Such dedication is at the heart of Waikiki’s newest extravaganza. While several of its creators once worked for Cirque du Soleil, Cirque Hawai‘i is an independent production— and one that is less about Soleil’s famed hi-tech hijinks and more the old-fashioned “wow moments” of traditional circuses. And really, who needs 21st-century enhancement when you have bungee divers plummeting in perfectly synchronized loops or contortionists capable of pretzeling their spines while balancing on one leg… or… is that a hand?
Cirque Hawai‘i artistic director Alan Goldberg says this is all in the plan. In 1995, after training and presenting lions and tigers for twenty-one years, he finally settled in a “house without wheels” on Maui. But he never forgot the European performance circuit, where, as he puts it, “The circus commands so much respect that it can be a black tie affair.”
A veteran of Cirque du Soleil’s Las Vegas extravaganza O, Goldberg is well-versed in theatrical flourishes, but says, “In the end, I just wanted to bring to Hawai‘i something so passionate that no one would sit in the audience pondering car payments.” That opportunity came when he connected with a quasi-itinerant cast that includes several pre- and post-Perestroika gymnasts who trained with the revered Moscow State Circus.
And how are the Russians maintaining their focus in the face of Hawai‘i’s famously laid-back lifestyle? Reports are that the training regimen now includes occasional balance work in the waves off Waikiki.