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Urban Celebration

An action-packed Cirque du Soleil show that garnered great success as a big-top production recently celebrated its 400th performance as a large arena production--and it is making its Tucson debut.

"It was converted to an arena show so it could come to places like Tucson," said Adam Miller, artistic director for Cirque du Soleil.

The name of the show is Saltimbanco, which literally means to jump on a bench. The definition refers to a time when the circus was still making a name for itself. Saltimbanco will debut in Tucson on Wednesday, Nov. 26, starting a five-day stint at the Tucson Convention Center.

"It's an elaborately produced street performance," Miller said. "They do an incredible job using the lighting and configuration of the set so that it feels like a big top, and everybody has a perfectly good seat."

The world premiere of Saltimbanco--the longest-running show in the Cirque du Soleil family--occurred in April 1992 in Montreal, and enjoyed a 14-year run under a big-top circus tent.

"The show was created in response to a darker time around the first Iraq war, and one of the things the creator wanted was to celebrate the diversity of life and the tradition of the urban experience," Miller said. "And what the show does is celebrate that using circus."

The show features traditional circus stunts including clown pranks, acrobatics, trapeze exercises, jugglers, bicycling acts and live music; the characters wear lavish makeup and outlandish costumes.

"The heart of success for a Cirque du Soleil show is that it uses all the theatrical elements of live entertainment," Miller said. "The costumes represent people who come from all classes and all walks of life, all mixed together in a really colorful way."

Saltimbanco remains true to its traditional big-top roots by maintaining a small feel while providing the audience with a large arena experience, Miller said. The show does this through lighting effects and by incorporating the audience.

"Animation in which performers go out into the crowd and perform pranks and jokes with the audience is part of the circus tradition," Miller said.

Saltimbanco begins with actors and clowns spontaneous pranks on members of the audience; then the stage is presented, draped in a big, white sheet. Next, the lights go up and reveal the characters onstage as the white drape is removed to unveil the urban city which all of the characters inhabit.

"The scenery looks very much like a floral utopian environment," Miller said. "It's kind of a protective canopy of color and light."

Immediately, the action begins with a symbolic scene depicting the birth of a child.

"It's an acrobatic act with a lyrical dance that represents sort of the innocence of the world ahead," Miller said.

Although the city setting in Saltimbanco is not meant to resemble any particular city during any particular time period, the show is meant to instill an idea of togetherness among an assorted community--much like you would find in a diverse city like Manhattan.

The show uses elements from many different cultures, including a Chinese pole act, a Russian swing act and a trapeze stunt with Ukrainian twins.

"The opening act is something called "Chinese Poles," which was created in China and involves climbing these poles which are sort of a symbol of skyscrapers," Miller said. "The party of the show is the Russian swing, because there are people flying around insanely."

While the show's main purpose is to entertain a family audience, there is a deeper meaning.

"Instead of worrying so much about the problems of the urban world, we are celebrating what is so great about a world in which everyone is welcome," Miller said. "It's built on fun for everyone, and it's built on the idea that when we open our eyes and our hearts to change, it makes us better people, and we can together celebrate everything we could be--but it's done in a way that seems fun and not too heavy."

The finale includes a giant bungee act in which several performers perform a variety of dancing acrobatics 50 feet in the air.

"The idea of using bungee as sort of a ballet was really created for the show," Miller said. "Cirque du Soleil was the pioneer of using bungee this way."

Saltimbanco will premiere at the Tucson Convention Center at 7:30 p.m., Wednesday, Nov. 26. The show continues with performances at 7:30 p.m., Thursday, Nov. 27; 3:30 and 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday, Nov. 28 and 29; and 1 and 5 p.m., Sunday, Nov. 30. Tickets range from $30 to $95 for adults, and $22 to $76 for children 12 and younger. For tickets, call 321-1000 or visit ticketmaster.com. For more information, visit cirquedusoleil.com.

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