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VIDEOS: Joining the Cirque

I used to think I was strong.

And then I went to interview San Diego native and performance artist David Poznanter of “Cirque Dreams Illumination” and I realized I’m not. In fact, I am quite weak and very much like a stiff donkey.

As much as I might have wanted to run away and join the cirque, after Tuesday’s hands-on experience on David Poznanter’s Roue Cyr wheel, they definitely did not want me. I did not wow. I did not impress. Nope, there was no offer to join them, just a very long hook and a loud gong!

That’s okay. I still got the chance to appreciate and drool, I mean marvel, at the performers as they warmed up, contorted their impossibly muscled bodies, climbed ropes, flipped on top of each other, balanced on chairs and walked tightropes in little ballet slippers. This is a very different type of circus indeed!

“Cirque Dreams Illumination” will be staged in downtown San Diego, inside the Balboa Theatre, through Sunday, April 18.

As I watched these one-of-a- kind artists from all over the world bending their bodies in exquisite positions, I was humbled by the capabilities of the human body. They were doing handstands on top of stacked chairs three stories high. They were doing one-handed handstands and not even breaking a sweat!

In the show, a typical day in the city turns into a magical metropolis with dancers who pop, featuring Robert Muraine from the show “So You Think You Can Dance,” acrobats who fly and gymnasts with never-seen-before athletic abilities. I am telling you, I thought I was in shape, but these people are in shape! They are incredible. They have muscles I’ve never seen before. The show’s various vignettes of city occurrences are an orgy for your eyes and your imagination.

Poznanter is the Train Engineer and Ring Roller in the company. He went to Carlsbad High and didn’t learn how to do a cartwheel until he was 25. After graduating from the University of California Santa Cruz and traveling the world, he witnessed Daniel Cyr on his invention, the Roue Cyr wheel. After that, Poznanter knew he was destined to learn how to use one.

After a few years, a lot of training and a great deal of focus, David placed a video of his Cyr wheel act on YouTube. Only a handful of performers can work the wheel with elegance and grace, and people took notice. The Cirque producers caught wind of his YouTube video and flew David to Connecticut for an audition. They were so impressed, they put his act in the show and he has been traveling with them ever since.

The Cyr Wheel takes an incredible amount of strength, awareness and balance to maneuver. David is among an elite group of athletes who know how to handle it and he doesn’t take this honor lightly. Since the show is on the road, on a different stage every week, he warms up with the wheel and calculates his space down to the very inch before each performance.

The wheel is round and large (almost like a man-sized steel hula-hoop you can fit your whole body inside), and needs a lot of space. If Poznanter were to bonk into something, it could ruin his act.

He is incredibly focused, yet lighthearted. So lighthearted that while warming up, circling round and round, looking like a flipped coin as he tossed his legs this way and that, he carried on a conversation about the car he just bought. He made it look so easy that I actually thought I could do it. So I tried it.

I failed miserably! And they got it on tape, forever to be placed in cyber-land for everyone’s amusement!

It’s all about weight and strength – and David has to keep a close eye on his. After our lesson, he pointed out the other athletes in the show and their physiques. Yes, look at those physiques! At that point, I had no problem gawking. I needed to take it all in with my eyes.
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Being an accomplished acrobat in Mongolia or Russia is like being a celebrity in America. They are the esteemed artists in their countries, exhibiting a combination of incredible strength and grace. Where they come from, optimum physical shape, not just a pretty face, gets them notoriety.

The strapping Russian men are so muscular that if they only have to tap into 20 percent of their strength, they will still be able to do the show. David told me that if he only used 20 percent of his strength, he wouldn’t be able to lift his wheel or even move it. So he works out diligently with strength training and running and tries to eat right, despite living out of a suitcase while the show travels.

As I sat in the theater taking it all in, I was awestruck by the way these performers push their bodies to such extremes. Oh, what I wouldn’t give to be able to do the splits in mid-air!

Check out the show if you get a chance. It will be an evening filled with amazing surprises and visual delights. They’re in town until Sunday. Okay, so you just might be a little jealous after seeing these incredible athletes and bummed that you’re so out of shape and that your body is so taut and inflexible, but you really don’t want to miss this one!

You can reach Maryann Castronovo at maryann.castronovo@sdnn.com