Cirque de la Symphonie makes fourth appearance with Boulder Phil

‘World’s Only Aerial Violinist’ Janice Martin performs with the company

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Janice Martin
Courtesy Boulder Philharmonic

The circus is coming back to town, and this time they’re bringing a fiddler.

The circus is the acrobatic troupe Cirque de la Symphonie, returning to perform with the Boulder Philharmonic in a program titled Cirque Goes to the Movies. And the fiddler is Janice Martin, “The World’s Only Acrobatic Aerial Violinist,” who will play the theme from Cinema Paradiso and two movements of “Winter” from Vivaldi’s Seasons while performing an aerial act above the stage.

A company of acrobats, dancers, aerialists, jugglers and other cirque artists, Cirque de la Symphonie has performed three times before with the Boulder Phil. The current production of Cirque Goes to the Movies features acts performing to film music played live by the orchestra.

Selections will be from movies including Superman, Star Wars, Titanic, West Side Story and Mission: Impossible. The Boulder Phil, under music director Michael Butterman, will also present concert performances of music from Gone With the Wind, Pirates of the Caribbean and other films.

Previous Cirque performances have featured classical selections, giving the audience an entertaining introduction to some of the best orchestral music. This year it will all be film music, but Butterman is clear that this is not a step down in quality. For example, there are several pieces by John Williams, one of the top contemporary film composers, including music from Star Wars and Superman.

“To play music by John Williams is to play music by as skilled an orchestrator as I think ever lived,” Butterman says. “He knows how to bring out the range of possibilities that an orchestra can produce, and can take you on an emotional journey at the same time.

“I think of film music as akin to operatic music, or ballet. These are genres of music that help convey a narrative, and that are involved in presentations that have other elements, whether it be dance or a story in singing like opera.”

Martin and her aerial violin performance will clearly be one of the top attractions of the show. Butterman recalls arriving in Rochester, New York, shortly after a Cirque de la Symphonie performance. “All I was hearing, from both musicians and audience members, was how incredible this violinist was that they had,” he says.

One reason Martin makes such a strong impression is that she is far more than a novelty act. “I have people who think I’m just lip syncing, or whatever the violin equivalent of that is,” she says. “But I spent a lot of years dedicating myself to being an artist and it’s of great importance to me.”

Indeed: she studied classical violin at Indiana University and Juilliard, and at one point she was touring as a concert artist, with a Stradivarius violin. But there was something missing for Martin.

“My path has always been different from other people,” she says. “I was always flighty as a child, and I played a lot of instruments.”

She went through a period when she couldn’t play due to serious tendonitis, so she got into movement disciplines, from ballet to Kung Fu, as a way of strengthening her body. “That led to a fascination with movement and the body. I have a tendency to take things to the extreme, so I was trying to dance with the violin.”

Everything fell into place when she saw a performance by Cirque de Soleil. “I had tears streaming down my cheeks because I felt like that was what I had to do,” she says. “It just clicked. I got back to New York and signed up for aerial lessons.”

Once she got strong enough, she invented a way to keep the violin with her — not the Strad! — during her aerial performances. Today, in addition to performances with Cirque de la Symphonie, she has her own show with a five-piece band in Branson, Missouri, The Janice Martin Cirque Show, and she enjoys playing straight classical repertoire as well.

But the Cirque de la Symphonie performances are especially rewarding. “There is this tremendous excitement that comes with being with great movement artists,” she says. “They are so accomplished at what they do.”

Butterman also enjoys working with the Cirque performers, but facing the orchestra he has never actually seen the show. “I’m told it’s very good,” he says, laughing. “When they do the aerial silk, they’re swinging around, and I actually do feel and hear the ‘whizt.’

“I’ve said in the past that what’s great about these concerts is that it’s the kind of experience that will open up people’s ears to what live symphonic music is all about, and how vivid that experience can be.”

On the Bill: Cirque Goes to the Movies. Boulder Philharmonic, Michael Butterman, conductor, Cirque de la Symphonie with Janice Martin, aerial violinist. 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 3, Macky Auditorium, 1595 Pleasant St., Boulder.

Tickets: boulderphil.org/tickets