Normally, anything with the name "cirque" conjures up images of a fast-paced, high-flying spectacle full of elaborate costumes and dozens of performers. Most of that does not apply to Cirque Italia, an Italian entertainment company and rookie in the traveling big top playing field.
Cirque Italia's Act XVII, currently set up adjacent to the Museum of Science and Industry in Tampa, is a stripped-down version of the bigger cirque shows, but without the pizzazz. (It's hard not to make comparisons to Cirque du Soleil's bedazzled Kooza, which has set up its tent outside of Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg through Dec. 16.)
Act XVII features an international cast of aerial artists, hand balancers, contortionists, jugglers and clowns atop a circular stage that lifts to reveal a pool of water. It's a rather small setup, with open seating for the 1,200 seats circling the stage. Choosing a seat was easy Friday evening; the performance was sparsely attended.
Divided into 12 acts, the show spans two and a half hours and features nine highly skilled performers. The main acts appear on stage individually, commanding the audience's attention without the overstimulation that can occur in other circus shows. At times, this bare approach creates an awkward lag. Aerialist Gabriela Zerbini swung high on her sparkling purple trapeze Friday, but the audience was caught twiddling its thumbs during the time it took her to get there.
In between acts, Coco the Clown teases the audience with his stethoscope antics and bag of tricks, doling out lollipops. But even he becomes trite and tiresome. The time spent on these interludes dragged, leaving the audience eager for showstoppers. And they do come, albeit sporadically.
Jaw-dropping sequences include a hoop act with contortionist Elena Lev, in which she continuously twirls a hoop with her pointed foot while doing back bends and standing on her hands. Her body, wrapped in a yellow jumpsuit, transitions in unfathomable ways. Hand balancer and singer Gimmi Fornaciari's voice doesn't falter despite singing while balancing on one hand and twirling a rod with his feet. The final act, Duo AA, is composed of stoic masses of muscle Adam and Anton, who work as a unit, mastering the laws of strength with breathtaking poise as they hoist and hold each other in mind-boggling positions.
Those moments induce the wonder Cirque Italia owner and creator Manuel Rebecchi envisioned. Rebecchi, who was born in Milan, Italy, attempts a fresh approach to the circus with an aquatic theme for this show. He succeeds mostly, but some trouble areas beg for fine-tuning.
The sound quality of the recorded music interferes with some of the singers, and the position of some stage lights blinds parts of the audience, hindering the view of the performance. Concession options are limited and the big top gets chilly on a cool night, so dress accordingly. And maybe forgo high heels or fancy shoes, since the $3 parking lot is a dirt pit.
Discerning audience members also might have noticed the lack of safety equipment — there are no wires or nets. That could explain the initial snags with obtaining the proper liability insurance that stalled the show's opening night.
That said, talented performers shine through the show's flaws. Their craft of control and limbered feats of the body captivate and intrigue. Cirque Italia undoubtedly provides a more budget-friendly version of the elaborate circus shows, with entertainment suitable for all ages.
Stephanie Bolling can be reached at (813) 226-3408 or [email protected]