Bill Allen's interest in the artistry of circus acts has taken him all over the world in search of talent. During the past two decades, he's supplied production companies and touring shows with all manner of aerialists, jugglers, gymnasts, contortionists, quick change artists and acrobats.
But in 1998, Allen was given an opportunity that he couldn't have anticipated. He received a telephone call from Erich Kunzel. The former Cincinnati Pops conductor had seen an aerialist Allen had promoted and was interested in trying to feature the performer in some type of orchestral concert.
“My exposure to orchestras at the time was as a listener,” Allen said recently. “I told Kunzel I'd see what we could do but I needed to do some research. So I brought over some technical experts from Moscow to see if such an idea was possible. Our first experiment matched circus artists with a full symphony orchestra.”
The result was “Cirque de la Symphonie,” a touring production that showcases an ensemble of circus artists who perform live with symphony orchestras all over the world. The production will close the Oklahoma City Philharmonic's 2012-13 pops series this week.
“In other parts of the world, circus performers are a real institution, a concept that is sort of foreign to people in this country,” Allen said. “After becoming involved with circus administrators and seeing the quality of the performers in Moscow, I thought these artists deserved to be recognized on a higher plane than we what we normally think.
“That began a long quest with the idea of raising circus art to a fine arts level. I thought classical music might be the glue that could fuse the art form of circus artistry to symphony orchestras. Our production with Kunzel became so popular that PBS broadcast it nationwide in 1998 and then showed it repeatedly for the next five years.”