'Saltimbanco' shines at Mullins Center through Sept. 7

Luis Lopez spinning bolas'.
By Debbie Gardner

PRIME Editor

AMHERST Cirque du Soleil brought its high-energy style of entertainment to town last night with the opening of the company's arena show, Saltimbanco, at the Mullins Center at UMass Amherst.

And, from the well-schooled eye of someone who has had the privilege to view and review four different Cirque shows in the past five years -- La Nouba at Walt Disney World, Varikai in Hartford in 2005, Kooza this past April, also in Hartford, and now Saltimbanco -- I can say without reservations that this show does not disappoint.

From the traditional character-audience clowning that opened the show to the rapid-fire bungee aerial act that closed the performance, Saltimbanco was two hours and ten minutes of thrills, skill and uproarious laughter.

I took my eight-year-old son Evan, a budding gymnast, with me to Saltimbanco, and it was interesting to see the performance through fresh, younger eyes.

To him, the best parts were not necessarily the feats of strength and

level of gymnastics skills demonstrated by many of the performers, but the more traditional circus-style acts that punctuate this show. (Though he did think the artist who spiral-climbed the Chinese pole using just his arms was "awesome.")

Evan laughed repeatedly -- as we all did -- at the pantomime antics of Amo Gulinello's clowning. He wished aloud that his friend, Trevor, was with us to witness the skills of bicyclist Ivan Do Duc. He repeatedly said, "wow" as artist Terry Velasquez added ball after ball to his juggling routine. And he pantomimed the spinning bolas and rhythmic drumming performed by artists Luis Lopez and Adriana Pegueroles as we exited the arena at intermission.

As always my husband, John, was most impressed by the music, always his favorite part of a Cirque performance. He said it was nice to have the band visible on the stage this time, not hidden away behind a screen or suspended in the air on a platform. He also commented that the music had more of a rock edge, with several numbers reminiscent of Pink Floyd.

Oh, and he thought the duo trapeze work of artists Ruslana and Taisiya Bazalii -- done without a net and with only thin wires as safety devices -- was incredible.

As for me, I just drink in the spectacle of sights and sounds, color and movement, that is Cirque du Soleil. Yes, there is an underlying story -- that of the multicultural mix of city life as seen through the eyes of a cast of characters -- that frames the acts of Saltimbanco (which by the way, comes from the Italian saltare in banco . literally to "jump on a bench"), but as with any Cirque performance, you don't need to follow the plot to enjoy the show.

Saltimbanco will be in residence at the Mullins Center through Sept. 7 with nightly performances at 7:30 p.m., Fri. and Sat. matinees at 3 p.m., and Sunday performances at 1 and 5 p.m. Adult tickets are $41, $61, $71 and $91; children under 12 are $33, $49, $57 and $73. UMass students, faculty and staff tickets -- available at the box office with ID are prices at $31,41,71, $91.

For tickets and more information call the box office at 413-733-2500 or visit www.cirquedusoleil.com.