Cirque Musica Heroes & Villains Comes to Oklahoma City
Wednesday, January 24, 2018
Joining the circus: Cirque Musica to bring fantastic feats to Oklahoma City Philharmonic Pops concert
by Brandy McDonnell Published: January 21, 2018 5:00 AM CDT Updated: January 21, 2018 5:00 AM CDT
The acrobats, aerialists and other circus performers of Cirque Musica will team with the Oklahoma City Philharmonic to perform their new show "Heroes and Villains" Jan. 26-27 at the Civic Center Music Hall. [Photo provided]
When Blake Carter graduated from Carl Albert High School in 2002, he didn't plan to run off and join the circus.
It just sort of worked out that way.
“Yeah, I had no clue this is where I'd be now. I think I've always kept goals, but you keep them kind of open-ended and understand that what you want out of life or what you're pursuing or what you're passionate about can flow and change over time. As long as you have something you're working toward ... and you're putting in the effort and you have the vision and the dream of it, then you can make it happen, whatever it is,” Carter said by phone from his home in Las Vegas.
“For me, when I encountered circus — and many other things over the years in entertainment that I loved — I just say, ‘Hey, I really enjoy that, let me look into it more.' You research it and then you just get into it.”
Originally from Midwest City, the strongman returns to Oklahoma as half of Duo Ronin, a hand-to-hand balancing act that is part of Cirque Musica, a traveling show that puts circus performers on — and often above — the same stage as symphony orchestras.
The Oklahoma City Philharmonic is continuing its Pops season Friday and Saturday with “Cirque Musica Presents Heroes and Villains” at the Civic Center Music Hall.
“You'll have the amazement of physical feats being performed to a mix of music,” said Oklahoma City Philharmonic Executive Director Eddie Walker. “The music selection is going to be fantastic and thrilling and dramatic.”
The OKC Philharmonic will be just the second orchestra to join forces with Cirque Musica's band of acrobats, aerialists and other circus performers for “Heroes and Villains,” a new production that debuted in November with the Springfield Symphony Orchestra in Ohio. Cirque Musica's debut with the OKC orchestra even will feature a flying violinist who soars through the air while playing her solo.
“‘Heroes and Villains' was created because orchestras were saying they want to get families in the (concert) hall, and so the repertoire is a mixture of sort of big movie hits — you know, things like ‘The Avengers' and a little bit of ‘Harry Potter' and a little bit of John Williams' (‘Star Wars') — mixed with ‘Night on Bald Mountain' and ‘The Planets' and sort of classical's greatest hits,” said Stephen Cook, creator and producer of Cirque Musica.
“We work with orchestras all over the place, and I can tell you that Oklahoma City is a very well-respected and well-run orchestra."
Cirque Musica's innovative concept is rooted in Cook's diverse experiences in show business: In the 1990s, he worked in marketing for Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey, where he developed his love for the circus, and later he was the chief marketing and entertainment officer for the Dallas Symphony Orchestra.
“We wanted to create something that would bring new people to the (symphony) hall and be good music but also be entertaining — and that's how sort of Cirque Musica started. We launched it with the San Diego Symphony actually about six years ago, and since that time it has grown tremendously — so much so that we just got done with a 25-city arena tour for our holiday show called ‘Believe,' which we played in full-scale arenas across the U.S. and Canada. So, the genesis is great music, but also really entertaining things to watch,” Cook said.
“At our shows in symphony halls, you see a lot of new people who don't know where the bathroom is ... and we definitely encourage people who maybe have never been into a hall before to come in and dress casually and have fun.”
Although Cirque Musica has achieved the popularity to pack arenas, performing live with orchestras in concert halls provides a real thrill for the circus talents.
“Having a full symphony orchestra is quite a treat, getting to perform with such a sound coming right behind you. You know, you're sandwiched between the audience and the symphony orchestra, so it's really quite an experience,” Carter said.
The strongman said he is excited to perform in his home state, with several friends and family members planning to attend.
“I love sports and I love entertainment. I always did performing arts and I always did athletics, so for me a kind of circus was kind of the marriage between the two. It's the hardest physical feats you can push your body to do while being a showman and entertaining the crowd at the same time,” he said.
The youngest of four children, Carter said he learned his love of the arts from his mother, Beverly Gassmann, who teaches theater at Carl Albert High School, and of sports from his father, Bradley Carter, who would spend hours playing basketball with him. At the University of Central Oklahoma, Carter studied dance and theater and went on to dance around the world, including on cruise ships, where he started learning the circus arts from some of the other entertainers.
Since forming Duo Ronin with Chris Jones, he has focused on performing fantastic feats of strength and balance, with Carter serving as the base and Jones as the flyer.
“I'm the one on the bottom, and he does handstands in my hands, on my head and in different positions with me kind of traditionally being the base role,” Carter explained. “It allows me what I enjoy, which is just to lift weights and try and be as strong as possible.”
He said he is eager to come back to Oklahoma with Cirque Musica's blend of circus acts and symphonic music.
“I think any time you can bring together two art forms — especially art forms that usually aren't correlated together very often — I think you reach different audiences. ... With this, you reach a lot of audiences that haven't seen circus before, and a lot of audiences may have seen a circus but haven't sat down and listened to a symphony orchestra,” Carter said. “I think it's really a positive thing for both of the genres of art.”
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