Judging by online videos and reviews, Il Circo, the Northern Alberta International Children’s Festival headline act, is prepped to create an adrenalin rush like no other.
Gravity-defying aerial feats, eye-popping contortionism, graceful acrobatics and astounding acts of balance, not to mention bold costumes and an original score are all part of Il Circo’s Viaggio, meaning journey in Italian.
The San Diego-based cirque extravaganza is unlike anything ever programmed in the festival’s 30-year history, and Viaggio runs May 31 to June 4 at the Arden Theatre.
Blending elements of song, dance, comedy, fantasy, acrobatics, aerials, puppetry and illusion, the 22-artist cast creates one of those surreal, whimsical productions rarely achieved outside Las Vegas.
Founder and creative director Sam Trego has brilliantly meshed the athletic prowess of French cirques with Italy’s 16th century commedia dell’arte of flamboyant stock characters.
In Viaggio, a young girl named Sasha dreams of becoming a disciplined performance artist. One day while visiting a carnival, Sasha meets Marionetta, a 12-foot fantasy creature that leads her to an underworld where people become what they desire.
“The 12-foot puppet is Mother Nature. She controls every aspect of life. She is beautiful, mysterious. She is the conductor of the fantasy, the dream,” explains Trego.
While Cirque du Soleil is the largest cirque-style show in the world, Il Circo has also solidified an international reputation since its inception in 1996.
“Every circus has a signature. Our shows lend itself more to theatre. Cirque du Soleil has a dark and mysterious element. Ours is more straightforward theatre. It’s more appropriate for kids. The cirque is more storytelling for us. There’s a lightness, a goosebumpiness that is pure magic.”
To truly appreciate Il Circo’s disciplined spectacle, it’s important to take a peek at Trego’s own illustrious show biz career. At 16 he was invited to join the touring performance troupe, the Young Americans.
“That troupe affected my whole philosophy of how to be a performer and treat people. To be a part of something so big and so joyful was incredible.”
But after receiving a university degree that combined both music and business, Trego was offered a position in 1987 at Las Vegas’ MGM Grand/Bally’s Hotel where he created theatrical shows.
Freelancing on the side, Trego developed a knack for producing huge corporate theatrical “happenings” and almost a decade later moved to San Diego to launch his own troupe.
Their international reputation solidified after Samsung hired the company to create a hip, edgy show at Australia’s 2000 Olympics. “It was one of the crown jewels and the crowds were sensational.”
Trego’s initial vision was very dance oriented. But within a year, cirque performers world-wide were sending him videos. “It was the talent that changed us and inspired us to change.”
While on a trip to Italy, Trego spied some puppets in a window built by an old-school puppet maker. “It was a raw old-school talent and it was hugely motivating and it brought an energy of its own.”
Inspired by the discovery, his newly stimulated vision created the commedia dell’arte element and puppetry infused Viaggio.
“Audiences leave seeing a real hope in the human character to live our dreams and be the best at what we choose to do. We live in a world of politics that destroys hope. There’s a lot of darkness and those privileged to entertain have the opportunity to tell another side.”
Il Circo’s Viaggio
International Children’s Festival
May 31 to June 4
Tickets: $15 to $20. Call 780-459-1542 or purchase online at www.ticketmaster.ca