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Cirque Dreams bringing sparkle of the 'Holidaze' to the Paramount stage

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Diana Nollen  ::   UPDATED: 21 January 2014 | 3:45 pm   ::  



Reindeer won't be pausing atop the Paramount roof on Tuesday (12/4/12). They'll be skipping rope across the stage, pulling Santa's sleigh.

A parcel of penguins will be spinning through a winter wonderland, lumberjacks will be twirling trees and cookies will be leaping off a gingerbread house when the holiday circus comes to town.

The name is French, but the style is an American melting pot for Cirque Dreams, returning to the Paramount with its "Holidaze" spectacular for a sold-out evening performance. The troupe, based in Pompano Beach, Fla., dazzled Cedar Rapids crowds with its dreamscape in October 2005 and its "Jungle Fantasy" in March 2007.

Unlike the similar-sounding Cirque du Soleil, which focuses on the European circus tradition, Cirque Dreams is "Broadway meets Radio City meets the circus," says artistic director Neil Goldberg, 58, who founded the troupe in 1993. With a degree in scenic design and a background in textiles, he calls himself "a musical theater person from New York City."

"These shows are put together theatrically, like you're watching a Broadway show," he says by phone from Abilene, Texas, where the first of three holiday touring troupes was rehearsing in early November.

The details


Each cast features more than 30 performers from a dozen or so countries and two dozen folks behind the scenes, from seamstresses, coaches and trainers to directors, choreographers and stage managers. Each troupe's show is a little different, since it's hard to find multiple artists with identical skills.

Each show costs about $2 million to produce, with no less than $15,000 poured into Swarovski crystal rhinestones on the costumes.

Goldberg will help launch each tour before heading back to the company's Florida headquarters to work on the four new shows opening in 2013.

He's been searching the world for the artists over the past two decades, developing relationships with the State School of Contortion in Mongolia, the Ethiopian government's circus program and various schools across France, Germany and Russia. The advent of the Internet and social media has made that search much easier.

"It's very, very easy -- so much easier than years ago -- to connect (through) a video," he says. "Cirque Dreams has one of the strongest reputations throughout the world as a leader in doing this. We receive no less than 50 inquiries a week from artists all over the world. We have a casting department that started as a part-time job and there's now five people there. They do nothing but look through all these videos."

They're looking for acrobats, singers, magicians, musicians, aerialists -- "any artist who does something unique and special," Goldberg says, adding that auditions are held in New York City to find Broadway-caliber singers for the shows.

This is the fourth year of taking a holiday show on the road, but the idea sprang from his head about seven years ago, sparked by his collection of more than 10,000 ornaments gathered during his globetrotting.

"One day, it inspired me. I knew there was a demand for some great family holiday entertainment, and I said, what if we took all these amazing artists and acrobats from all over the world, and we costumed them and transformed them in to ornaments and put a 30-foot-tall tree in the center of the stage.

"Then when the curtain came up, all these acrobats who had this physical ability to do so are hanging from this tree, and one by one, over the course of two hours, they come off the tree and present what it is they do, in a holiday, celebratory winter theme. That's how this whole thing has evolved," he says.

He keeps the pace quick, to hold the attention of even the youngest audience members.

"Imagine, there's 32 artists in the cast and each artist changes costumes no less than four times," he says. "The stage has 25-foot-tall toy soldiers and candy canes and stars that are moving around and this magnificent tree in the center. It's almost like for two hours looking in a kaleidoscope. ...

"And then, to make it even more exciting, when we have something spectacular, these amazing performance artists happening downstage -- costumed candy canes and giant costumed ornaments and toy soldiers marching on thin wires across the stage -- you can't help but walk out of the theater with a smile on your face," he says.

"Then I'm happy."

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