CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The Christmas season is here. If there was any doubt, Sunday night the Clay Center doled out a heaping helping of holiday madness with "Cirque Dreams Holidaze," the latest show in the "Broadway in Charleston" series.It was a fun show: fast paced and diverse. One minute, you're looking at a group of acrobats dressed as reindeer jumping rope, the next there's gaudy old Santa Elvis belting out a holiday rock song, and then you had flying angels or a juggler or penguins or something.Cirque Dreams pulled a good crowd. There were a number of empty seats, but it was a good house and the crowd the cirque got was enthusiastic and appreciative of just about every odd thing thrown at them -- and there was plenty of odd.Cirque shows are still kind of new in this part of the world. The Clay Center hosted "Cirque Dreams Jungle Fantasy" a few years ago and Cirque du Soleil's "Drallion" had a multi-day run earlier this year, but not everybody knew what to make of that one and it may have kept people away.
Cirque shows are based on the European (mostly French) circus tradition of using street performers, clowns and musicians to form their troupes rather than animals. You don't see elephants or lions at a cirque show, but you really don't miss them.Without seeing both, it would be easy to confuse Cirque Dreams and Cirque du Soleil, but they're very different productions with very different styles.Cirque du Soleil is the bigger, better known operation. The Canada-based company is smoother and subtler. They're aesthetic is a kind of high-minded, symbolic and abstract.Cirque Dreams is about as subtle as an icicle jammed in your brain, but that's not such a bad thing. Icicles are cool and the Clay Center seldom gets a show as cool as Holidaze."Cirque Dreams Holidaze" is a kaleidoscope of high energy, over-the-top antics that occasionally flashes an edge behind those candy colors and tinsel. Younger patrons might miss it, but there's a fair amount of sexy built into "Holidaze" -- maybe not enough for the show to lose their "family friendly" sticker, but parts of the show were definitely aimed well over the heads of junior audience members.High points for the evening included the clever "quick change" magic act (a magician and his assistant seem to radically change outfits in the blink of the eye), a complicated and dangerous-looking balancing act involving an acrobat dressed as a penguin and the jaw-dropping performances of two very young acrobats, a Russian and an Ethiopian.The two performed in separate show segments, pulling loud gasps from the audience, along with applause. Neither performer appeared to be over the age of 10, which seemed shocking.You just don't see a lot of that, but the same could be said for most of the show. Reach Bill Lynch at firstname.lastname@example.org