As the audience assembled in Roy Thomson Hall on Wednesday, nothing seemed out of the ordinary. Members of the orchestra were taking their seats on the stage, getting ready to tune their instruments. However, anyone paying close attention to the setting would have seen a fixture hanging high above the stage. For this was a night when the TSO Pops opened its season with a jaw-dropping concert featuring Cirque de la Symphonie.

Conductor Steven Reineke has created a series in which much-loved music from popular culture is combined with “cirque” performance. His vision allows for the orchestra and the “cirque” to blend into one. An ambitious project, indeed, but one that has both ups and downs. During this concert Reineke displayed endless enthusiasm. He introduced compositions and artists in an exuberant manner and did not shy away from making a joke or two in between – but he led the orchestra through this program as if it was a marathon, and at times I did wish that he would take more time between works. Overall, it seemed like this concert was geared towards an audience perhaps new to the TSO, and so this served as an exciting introduction to the world of classical repertoire for that audience. In this regard the event was a success. The orchestra did also manage to have its solo moment in the spotlight without the “cirque” artists on stage. The opening, Festive Overture, Op. 96 by Dmitri Shostakovich, was the one that stood out the most. The players simply gunned this piece, with Reineke acting as the starter in this instance. Soon after that, the players receded into the background and the artists took center stage.

Cirque de la Symphonie is the only cirque company in the world that performs specifically with symphony orchestras. Their aim is to add a vibrant visual element to well-known musical works and to create a truly multi-dimensional experience. The cirque performers range from aerial artists to strongmen, and even a mime artist. All in all, this group of eight ends up catering to a wide audience. They perform unbelievable physical numbers, while the orchestra performs feats of their own. All they require from the audience is to sit back comfortably and marvel at the capabilities of human body being displayed on stage.

Each cirque artist was extremely talented, with a stream of professional accomplishments in their biography, and each number was original in its own way. However, some stood out more than the others. Mime artist and juggler Vladimir Tsarkov provided the main entertainment this evening. He effortlessly brought out genuine smiles and laughter from the audience. Without saying a word, relying only on his gestures and an endearing walk, he found the way to the inner child of many.

Elena Tsarkova, contortionist, dancer and quick changer on top of it all, showcased incredible musicality during her solo number. She danced and exhibited contortionist tricks on two high chairs to Debussy's Clair de lune. She not only amazed with her flexibility, but also clearly highlighted motivic nuances in the piece with her body lines. Dressed in white and silver, she sparkled like a diamond on stage.

The closing act was by strongmen Jarek and Darek, set to Finlandia by Sibelius. It was an effective contrast to the seeming fragility of Elena Tsarkova. These two came out covered head to toe in gold paint and silently walked onto a small plinth on stage. Their appearance was reminiscent of ancient Greek statues of athletes. The audience could not possibly anticipate what would come next. The men displayed almost divine physical strength, which left the rest of us feeling rather meek. They also seemed to have an understanding of the piece, as their determined movements matched the character of the music. The orchestra fully regained control at this moment. The produced sound was extremely powerful and solemn, fitting for the work and the closing of the night.

All in all, this was a very entertaining evening. Yes, the performance of the orchestra was not as highlighted as usual. Nevertheless, the purpose of the concert, to cater to a wide audience and those new to the world of classical music, was definitely achieved. It truly was a one-of-a-kind event.