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Le Cirque presents 'City Walk'

About a year before street performers Guy Laliberte and Gilles Ste-Croix founded Cirque du Soleil in Baie-Saint-Paul, Quebec, dancer and choreographer Lorenzo SantaBarbara was learning theories of total theater — the concept of relying on physical features to tell a story — at Nikolais Dance Theatre in New York City.

"The process of mixing the athleticism of dance and the artistry of working with lighting, sound and movement is what does it for me," says SantaBarbara, director of Le Cirque Centre in Ashland. "I was introduced to Cirque du Soleil when I met The Gemini Twins (identical twins who perform and teach trapeze with many circus and theater companies) at the Aerial Dance Festival in Boulder, Colorado.

"I've always had a passion to create," he says. "I went to Las Vegas and saw my first Cirque du Soleil show, 'O,' performed in 1.6 million gallons of water. I was in the third row, getting splashed and watching aerial dancers dart from the ceiling into the water. It was an amazing, extraordinary ballet, and I've been hooked since."

SantaBarbara came to Ashland in 2003 and opened Le Cirque Centre, a circus academy with a heavy focus on concepts of dance. The center teaches adult and youth circus arts, and its dance troupes include The Empyrean Aerialists, Levity and Book Levity.

The center's annual performance extravaganza, this year titled "City Walk," will be presented at the Craterian Theater, 23 S. Central Ave., Medford. Written and directed by SantaBarbara, the show promises an action-packed event full of engaging characters, visual storytelling, acting and floor dancing, along with aerial dance high above the stage.

Performances are at 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 14, at the theater. Tickets cost $35 for reserved seating, $24 for general seating, and $14 for ages 18 and younger. Tickets can be purchased at the Craterian box office, 16 S. Bartlett St., online at craterian.org or by calling 541-779-3000.

SantaBarbara adapted his original production from a story by fiction writer Juliana Crespo.

"I rewrote it to fit what I do at Le Cirque," he says. "I actually changed the entire story, but Crespo somehow inspired me to do it."

SantaBarbara possesses a fantastic imagination. The basic premise of his story — what happens to the characters as a result of the actions — is less important than the spectacle of theater he has created here, though there are undercurrents of an adverse circumstance, antagonists and a protagonist.

"In order for it to be entertainment, there has to be layers of excitement and activity on top of the message," SantaBarbara says. "The show is more about acrobats doing flips in the air or aerial dancers flying than it is about social disorders. We have a 30-foot mural of a cityscape with dancers performing aerial arts from the scaffold. The show articulates athleticism and theatricality. There are moments that will make you cry, laugh and have fun watching it." 

The cast features Le Cirque's Empyrean Aerialists, SantaBarbara's most sophisticated company, he says. Smart and focused, they share a passion for performance.

The aerial dancers and acrobats of the troupe are high-school age and must audition to be part of the company.

There is Tereza Stott, who plays Fanaceo, the beggar and Manhattan fashion mogul; Sonora Mindling and Hannah Ring who play models Sona and Gisella; Hannah Hackett, Emma Culhane, Angela Henty, Allie Poole, Simran Chavellier and Zea Mindling, who play activists speaking out against Fanaceo's trade; and Isabeau Kennedy who plays Estara, "the Cupid, the lover, that catalyst that brings the two sides together," SantaBarbara says.

SantaBarbara has created this production from top to bottom, with no costume designer or set designer. He also compiled all of the music and multimedia for the show.

"I love to create," he says.

Isabeau Kennedy appears as Estara in Le Cirque Centre's production of 'City Walk.' Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch