There’s a Pinoy in ‘Saltimbanco’By Aries B. Espinosa
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Even the cruel habagat (southwest monsoon) stepped aside on Thursday night for one of the most spectacular, long-running circus shows in the world.
Opening an 11-day run at the Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City, “Saltimbanco: Cirque du Soleil” offered a breathtaking high against the backdrop of depressing lows that Metro Manila experienced last week when floods of “Ondoy”-like proportions submerged most of the metropolis and outlying provinces.
The moment the show started, the audience was transported to a cityscape like no other. “Saltimbanco,” according to the souvenir program, “explores the urban, cosmopolitan experience, from the hustle and bustle of streets to the towering heights of skyscrapers. Between whirlwind and lull, prowess and poetry, ‘Saltimbanco’ is inspired by the urban fabric of the metropolis and takes you on an allegorical and acrobatic journey into the heart of the city.”
Indeed, the jaw-dropping performances of over 50 artistic cast members from over 20 countries masterfully conveyed the interplay of human movement and emotions with man-made structures.
Amazing acrobatics pushed the limits of human physical abilities. In between, resident clowns gleefully toyed with the spectators’ funny bones in wildly humorous ways, thanks to deft miming and role-playing. At several points, they expertly and successfully engaged audience participation.
Colorful costumes and psychedelic sets, combined with precise lighting effects, elicited hyperactive levels of anticipation.
For those who are just about to watch “Saltimbanco,” be sure to keep wide open not only your eyes but your ears as well. The show is also a musical spectacle. If you can, train your eyes on the band. Keeping the Cirque troupe performing in time, and on cue, is a Los Angeles-based Filipino-Canadian named Adrian Andres.
It’s difficult to recognize him—all performers are made up and costumed—but you will, no doubt, hear his presence, as this 40-year-old erstwhile rock band guitarist lets his fingers loose on the strings.
The band section churns out various musical styles to accompany the nearly three-hour show, from the frenetic Boleadoras’ routine, to the exhilarating bungee and trapeze cliffhangers, to the whimsical chicanery of the Baroques and the jazzy dance routines of the entire cast.
“Saltimbanco” is, in many respects, as much a concert of world music as it is a circus. If the notes emanating from the band section are the invisible high wires keeping the entire act together, Adrian Andres holds much of those strings, quite literally.
The Inquirer caught up with Adrian a few hours before the opening performance. Asked if he still had the jitters, he shook his head and lightly tapped his electric guitar. “Nah. I’ve probably done a thousand shows.”
Unmasked, or rather, pre-makeup, Adrian’s youthful face and physique hides his true age; he could’ve been mistaken for a rookie 20-year-old. “I do look beautiful at 40,” he laughed.
In fact, Adrian has been touring with “Saltimbanco” for three and a half years. And it wasn’t exactly his dream gig.
He related: “Three and a half years ago, I wasn’t doing anything, my band was [going nowhere] in Los Angeles. Then I got this phone call saying, ‘Hey, Cirque du Soleil is looking for a musician!’ I didn’t think much about it but I auditioned, and after a couple of weeks, they asked if I wanted to do this tour, and I said, ‘Yeah!’”
It has since been one amazing experience after another, Adrian said, and he has toured in over 35 countries. “I’m in the company of some world-class musicians whom I love to play with every night. There are a lot of moments of really cool improvisation with the band.”
Adrian and his band mates get to interact with the circus performers in some routines, too. One memorable scene involves him “scoring” stunts by the mime Eody.
Born in Toronto, Canada, Adrian had his first piano lessons at age 4 and picked up his first guitar at 10. He recounted being influenced by his father and older brother.
“You know, you’re Filipino, so you’re expected to know how to sing and play, right? Every Filipino I know either plays a guitar or a piano,” he chuckled.
At 17, Adrian moved to LA to study, and it was while he was enrolled at the Musicians Institute College of Contemporary Music in Hollywood, California, that he got the fateful call.
A self-confessed lover of adobo (“Who’s not?” he asked), and on the hunt for CDs of Filipino traditional folk songs, Adrian plans to stay longer in the country when the tour concludes its Manila stop.
He said his parents—both Filipinos (his father is from Batangas; his mother, from Pangasinan)—are in town to support their youngest child.
When Adrian got accepted as a member of the musical artists of “Saltimbanco,” he thought he would just be playing behind the scenes. “Then I was told I had to be in full costume, with makeup, and to interact with the clowns. That felt weird.”
His experience as a band front man, singer and rapper worked to his advantage. “There are portions in the show where we do solos,” Adrian said. “So I get to play whatever I want to play. Then there are parts when I play exactly what the acrobats want to hear.”
To close out its 20th year, “Saltimbanco” will hold a series of performances back in Montreal, Canada, where the show made its big world premiere on April 23, 1992. Before that, it will hold performances in Taiwan, the United States, Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico.
“Saltimbanco” has been staged on all five continents, before a combined audience of over 12 million, and has been one of the most successful Cirque du Soleil shows created by street performers Guy Laliberte and Gilles Ste-Croix.
For Manila audiences coping with a glum wet season, a show like this brings out sunny smiles.
“Saltimbanco” runs until Aug 19 at the Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City. Log on to cirquedusoleil.com/saltimbanco, hoopla.ph or smtickets.com, or call 320-1111 and 470-2222.
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