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THEATER REVIEW

They bend, they twist, but most of all they dazzle

The sometimes mind-boggling 'Montage' is no pretender to 'Cirque.'

July 28, 2008|F. Kathleen Foley | Special to The Times

Can you put your derriere on your head? Odds are, no. Well, as she demonstrated in "Montage," the "Grand Show of Circus Daring and Skill" that closed at the El Portal on Sunday night after a weekend-only run, the amazing Ganchimeg Oyunchimeg of Mongolia can. She can also twist herself into pretzel shapes and balance her entire weight on a slender stick -- supported only by her mouth. Odds are, you can't do that, either.

The show's producer, WonderWorld Entertainment, has been best known as a provider of entertainment for corporate events and private parties. The group's theatrical debut, "Montage," is the brainchild of company founder Michael Manzanet, who designed the costumes, lighting, sound and also composed the lively original music, a dizzying blend of techno, salsa and Gregorian chant.

It's a bit like watching Mickey and Judy put on a show. The show opens with a cocky, wisecracking Ringmaster (Eric Newton), soon to demonstrate he is also a gifted trapeze artist, strutting around shadowed by an exotic dancing bird (Lauren LiBrandi) in a costume that looks like "Lion King" salvage. At first, the proceedings seem rickety and the patter contrived, and many of the performers being Cirque du Soleil vets invites unfortunate initial comparisons.

In terms of production values, the scaled-down, modestly budgeted "Montage" may be Cirque du Soleil light, but the talents involved are strictly heavyweight. And the performers, in the El Portal's midsized main stage, are so up close and personal that their winning personalities come to the fore

Buff and deceptively somber Sebastien Stella opens the show on aerial straps, coiling and uncoiling from a great height with extraordinary rapidity and strength. Later, in an audience participation sequence, Stella goofs around like a kid, clearly enjoying the interaction, as does his audience.

Second on the bill is solo hand balancer Adam Vazquez, a fourth-generation circus performer who "interrupts" the performance by obnoxiously snapping flash photographs at the foot of the stage. Pretending to be an ordinary audience member, Vazquez leaps onstage and launches into his act, supporting himself with two wrists, then one, in combinations that defy gravity -- and carpal tunnel syndrome.

Also a fourth-generation circus entertainer, bombastic juggler Dario Vazquez, brother of Adam, does a pleasingly kinetic act, trilling like Charo and dancing around the stage as if he's in the last round of a marathon salsa competition.

For her "chiffon" act -- the familiar circus standard in which the performer flies on long, billowing reams of material -- Katia Sereno is hampered by the confines of the space, which doesn't allow her to let loose in huge, looping spirals. Sereno ingeniously compensates with a sort of midair pole dance -- a taut and sexy turn that is one of the evening's highlights.

Duo pole climbers Adam Vazquez and Sergey Ryzhov clamber up and down long steel bars with simian skill, plunging toward the floor upside down, "braking" with their feet the second before collision. LiBrandi, Sarah Mosher and Jacob "Kujo" Lyons do several dance numbers, with Lyons doing nimble break-dancing moves that contrast effectively with his ballerina-like partners.

As for ballet, Sereno and Stella perform a duo chiffon sequence that's like watching a pas de deux -- with a 15-foot drop.

And when it comes to physical lyricism and strength, Manzanet and Kelly Rooney top off the show with a mind-boggling balancing act that leaves the audience gasping.

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