Balancing Act

Cirque Hawaii takes flight

By: Dawna L. Robertson

There’s something about a circus all the mystique and marvels prompting even the most skeptical observer to ooh and aah like a child. Cirque Hawaii is no exception. What sets this Waikiki theatrical thriller apart, however, is its unorthodox style.

Designed as an alternative rather than a competitor to Hawaii’s Polynesian pulse, Cirque Hawaii is an entity unto itself.

“We designed it to complement Hawaii’s cultural diversity,” explained Barry Schmoyer, director of operations and marketing.

As I cozied into my seat at the former IMAX Theatre, Schmoyer’s words rang true. This was no Hawaiian-style, three-ring affair not by a long shot.

Small in scale compared to other Cirque venues, the theater has optimized its performance area through creative design. With 478 seats in an intimate stadium-style set up, the space is fitted with 70-foot-high aerial apparatus and opposing sets of three performance tiers. Even the air above the audience became a staging zone. Everything was up close and personal.

The show’s start was subtle, as a feisty French juggler encouraged us to join his act. Playing catch, we were definitely short on arm and aim. With ample applause and laughter, we warmed up for what waited in the wings.

From the first act, it was clear that the Hawaii half of Cirque’s moniker merely referred to its location. Bringing new flavor to a Polynesian spectrum, Cirque Hawaii proved to be more a collision of dreams and reality.

At the center of the storyline was Josephine, a gentle giant leading her traveling troupe of acrobats and contortionists through nine wow-evoking acts. Hawaiiana was definitely understated.

With the greatest of ease, the 30-plus cast of global performers mesmerized with fluid motion, stunning athleticism and gravity-defying feats.

Energized bungee jumpers sprang so high I thought they would rip the rafters. Another trio twined through spinning rings swirling so swiftly it made me dizzy just watching.

Leaping into the action, tumblers catapulted sky high off teeterboards and Russian bars. Capping wild aerial stunts with human pyramids and narrow beams as landing strips, these agile athletes nailed countless twists, turns and somersaults on the fly.

A child next to me squealed as his mother gasped. That’s the clincher with this show: It elicited a variety of reactions amusement, escape, imagination and awe.

The most mind-boggling act involved a contortionist, whose spine was surely rubber, balancing on a single hand or perhaps a leg hard to tell with all the freakish, pretzel-like posturing.

For me, however, the trapeze artists stole the show. With nerve-racking precision based on pure athleticism and trust, this smooth-swinging duo soared and stunted to the point my palms were sweating. Better mine than theirs, I thought.

Others delighted as turbocharged rope skippers took the schoolyard game to hyper heights. With two acrobats aboard his back, one pumped-up player jumped push-up style as upbeat Calypso music set the pace. No doubt, this was a major crowd pleaser.

Perhaps most mystifying, the spotlight act shined with the show’s silk-supported star gliding above the audience cradled in cloth. In effortless form, he twirled as a companion grasped his neck. Harmonic and synchronized, the dual motion generated the most applause due to sheer agility, beauty and strength.

What stood out to me was how comedic and sideshow antics masked scene changes. There was no break in the action. The fumbling Frenchman weaved between scenes, as did dancers, transitionists and magicians.

Alan Goldberg, Cirque Hawaii’s artistic director, described that continuity as the critical difference.

“Our imbedded storyline carries a train of thought through the show instead of disconnecting from one act to another, as in a typical circus.”

He linked Josephine’s journey to a visitor experience.

“She’s a traveler who winds up in Hawaii,” he said. “So Josephine’s story ties in with what the audience is actually doing. It’s a positive, fun experience.”

Exiting the show, we had the opportunity to meet several performers. Adults and kids clamored to question the magic.

“That people don’t really understand what they’ve seen is the magic of Cirque Hawaii. That’s the dream,” Goldberg noted.

Like so many others, I left awed but amused.


Cirque Hawaii

Location: Cirque Hawaii Theatre (formerly IMAX Theatre), 325 Seaside Ave., Waikiki

Performances: 6:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m., nightly, except Wednesdays

Show Prices: $55 adults, $42 children (3-11)

Dinner packages: $99 adults, $74 children

Commission: Varies. Contact Kala Mia, 808-330-5136

Reservations: 808-922-0017;

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