NSO Pops: ‘Happy Holidays! Cirque de la Symphonie’ at The Kennedy Center


It seems DC is on the nice list this year.

From classics (See: Olney) to new inventions (See: Pointless), there really is something for everyone on local stages this season. Not to be outdone, the National Symphony Pops (NSO Pops ) has presented its holiday themed installment of its 2014-15 Pops series, Happy Holidays! Cirque de la Symphonie. This mesmerizing blend of exquisite orchestral music, haunting vocals and heart pounding acrobatics is like a delicious mug of December cocoa… with maybe a dash of peppermint schnapps. There’s nothing about the show that isn’t family friendly – dozens of buttoned up tots were craning their necks to see the way-off performers in the cavernous Concert Hall – but when some of the aerialists, jugglers, and contortionists dazzled the audience with their feats of strength, a little alcohol may have come in handy.

Alexander Streltsov and Christine Van Loo. Photo courtesy of The Kennedy Center.
Alexander Streltsov and Christine Van Loo. Photo courtesy of The Kennedy Center.

What seemed to me at first to be an odd pairing of sight and sound – Little Drummer Boy with gold-painted strongmen? turned out to be a singularly enjoyable experience. After all, the holidays are defined by the supernatural – flying reindeer, dancing snowmen, menorahs that won’t stop burning – and the death-defying antics of the Cirque performers transport audiences out of the everyday and into the world of the magical. The acts – which range from harlequin jugglers to aerial acrobats – are designed to sync perfectly with the music. The latter relies mostly on Tchaikovsky (who else?) with a bit of John Williams and, of course, the traditional carols that so define December. The best combination came early, when the haunting vocals of Schubert’s Ave Maria (provided by the third component of the performance, the Washington Master Chorale) were paired with aerialist Christine van Loo’s triumphant silks choreography.

Conductor Steven Reinke brings his usual panache to the stage, his enthusiasm never flagging despite the triple tasks of managing the orchestra, the chorale, and the performers (he even participated in a magic trick in Act II, albeit a somewhat bungled one).

Meanwhile, the Cirque performers, although uniformly impressive, included some definite stand-outs: Jarek and Darek, the strongman duo whose incredible balancing act resulted in a standing ovation at intermission; Nate Nordine, a young contortionist who is surely the envy of his elementary school classmates; and Alexander Streltsov and Christine Van Loo, an acrobatic duo whose joint aerial silks act was truly jaw-dropping.

Finally, the atmosphere of the Concert Hall itself, bedecked with trees, snowflakes, and, towards the end of the show, Mr. Claus himself, provided the foundation for a thoroughly enjoyable sleigh ride.

Running Time: Two hours, with one fifteen minute intermission.

Happy Holidays! Cirque de la Symphonie plays through Saturday, December 13, 2014 at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts – 2700 F Street NW, in Washington, D.C. Tickets can be purchased by calling the Box Office at (202) 467-4600, or by purchasing them  going onlineTonight and tomorrow’s matinee are Sold Out. There are very few tickets left remaining for tomorrow night’s 8 PM performance.

Cirque de la Symphonie website.


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