The pure beauty of Tchaikovsky’s music for the Nutcracker and the aerobic movement on the stage tantalizes one with wonder and awe. “The Nutcracker” is a season favorite and the Troupe Vertigo brings a unique twist, daredevil stunts and humor to the beloved story while the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra masterfully sets a stunning backdrop of sound.
The Los Angeles-based theatrical circus company, Troupe Vertigo, was founded in 2009 by Aloysia Gavre (Cirque du Soleil) and her husband Rex Camphuis (Pickle Family Circus/ Film & Theater Producer). They create an eclectic and refreshing mix of circus-dance-theater works that ignite the imagination with mentally and physically spellbinding performances. The small troupe, each with their own skill sets and playing many different characters, is more than an equal match for the large symphony eclipsing the stage. I was not sure if the troupe was playing to the music or the symphony was playing to the troupe. They worked together like a fine-tuned violin with the simple storyline and created an adrenaline rush of thrills with the fantastic aerobatic and at times dangerous stunts keeping everyone on the edge of their seats.
…defying gravity as they spun and flipped and danced on an unseen floor.
A silk Christmas tree becomes a high flying silk dance, with the silk dancer defying gravity as she falls and rises at will all in perfect motion with the cadence of the music. There is fun for all ages as the nutcracker turns into a bumbling soldier to fight off the attacking mice protecting the girl with a skilled sword dance and some laughs ensue. There is a contortionist twisting her body in positions that do not look humanly possible and while contorted actually works a bow and arrow to fight the mice with and in another scene pours a cup of tea with her feet and balances it perfectly to drink it. The father character is the master of ceremonies and also a skilled juggler of many things taken from his trunk ending with the most dangerous, knives, which left me breathless. Thankfully, his facial expressions and animated movements added levity to the stunt.
In the middle of the stage, a chain lowered at points where the troupe members did their aerial ballet, dances and feats of strength. They would clip on ropes with handholds, trapeze swings and poles to complete their scenes. The couples danced through the air with ease, seemingly floating, once again defying gravity as they spun and flipped and danced on an unseen floor. The trapeze act started as a simple kid on a swing which led to gymnastic like moves that wowed the audience when she fell and caught herself. The nutcracker character came out with a giant german wheel or hoop known as the Rhonrad, where he rolled around it, in it and on top of it, which looked like it rolled over him at times, but it was just an illusion. It was like looking at a human kaleidoscope as he rolled across the stage and changed shapes with his body and was twisting his body all around the wheel. He then got fully inside looking for a moment like Leonardo’s Vitruvian Man and then spun the wheel on its side to bounce it off the stage while inside, creating a centrifugal force aligning with the music.
Marin Alsop as music director grabs the very essence of Tchaikovsky’s work. Nicholas Hersh conducts this magical masterpiece flawlessly and seemingly effortlessly. The symphony is hiding in plain sight as the music surrounds the aerobatics and antics beautifully.
Running Time: Two hours with a 20-minute intermission.
“Cirque Nutcracker” played through December 15th, 2019, at Strathmore and Meyerhoff Theater. For more information about the Strathmore, click here.