It is not often that the nominal title of a concert would consist of simply the name of its protagonists. Yet this is exactly what happened this week when the Sydney Symphony Orchestra’s programme was called with laconic brevity: Cirque de la Symphonie. As the name suggests, two completely different types of artistic performances combined their innovative forces to provide thoroughly enjoyable entertainment here. The orchestra sat at the back of the stage, while frontstage was taken up with exceptional circus artists, one or two at a time:  acrobats, aerial flyers, contortionists, balancers, dancers, jugglers and strongmen. Most of the eight artists (Alexander Streltsov, Christine Van Loo, Aloysia Gavre, Andrey Moraru, Vladimir Tsarkov, Elene Tsarkova and the muscle men, Jarek and Darek) performed in more than one number and they even helped each other out with stage management (not an uncommon practice in circus companies).

Currently on its second tour in Australia, Cirque de la Symphonie is a US-based touring company specialising in co-productions with symphony orchestras around the world. Every one of their numbers is strictly choreographed to music performed invariably live on stage.  This both defines and refines their artistry: apart from the sheer bravura of their immaculately executed acts (with no assistance whatsoever from mechanical protection, such as a safety net or crash pads), they all follow the flow and rhythm of the music in the rather limited space they can use (about half a concert hall stage), and do this with evident precision in an aesthetically highly attractive manner. On occasion, they even emphasise the size of the necessary area by performing on a miniscule platform, such as the strongmen matching every musical gesture in Finlandia by Jean Sibelius with a very physical movement, or the contortion-like dance number choreographed to the Waltz from Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty. At other times, following the lilt of another famous Tchaikovsky Waltz (this time from Swan Lake) they escape solid ground altogether and fly high above both their audience and orchestra with astonishing grace as a floating duo, attached only to each other and a pair of aerial silks which double as ropes, veils, flags and invariably, symbols of magic and boundless freedom. It truly makes you wonder: whatever happened to gravity?

Humour is also represented, this time to music from Bizet’s Carmen by a mime artist with white face and wide grin, dressed as Harlequin, equipped with juggling rings instead of the batte (the magic wand in old commedia dell’arte times) which are equally effective. The seemingly inescapable Can-Can (Offenbach: Orpheus from the Underworld) is performed by a solo dancer with the twist of a mesmerising long ribbon drawing majestic lines in the air.

The dozen or so items of the programme whether on the ground or in the air could of course not eventuate without the atmosphere and live music, the symphonic and sympathetic contribution of the orchestra directed by Guy Noble. His work did not stop at conducting, as he also took on the tasks of master of ceremonies and ringmaster, with ease, wit and expert musicianship. The orchestra played with enjoyment and they did not even seem to mind when the constant applause in response to the audacious turns by the tango duo stifled the expertly performed instrumental solos in Rimsky-Korsakov’s Capriccio Espagnol.

This programme certainly was not the usual staple of a leading symphony orchestra, but in our times many orchestras around the globe see the need to venture into less well-known territory. Co-operation with jazz artists, live performance of a film’s music with the film shown on a screen above the orchestra or a circus performance can all open the heart (and wallet) of potential audience members. On this occasion, as only anticipated, the proportion of audience members from younger generations was considerably larger than on other SSO performances and this included a considerable number of children. My lovely companion, a 13-year old niece, summed up her first visit to the Concert Hall with glowing eyes after the final standing ovation: “this was such an awesome concert”. Surely, the prospective future audience of symphonic concerts in Sydney grew by not just one but many on this night.