The music slowly builds.
The pace of the aerialist, spinning high above the audience, slows.
The chorale silently breathes in.
Then, in an instant, the orchestra’s notes hit a crescendo. The 100-plus voices of the chorale join en masse. And the aerialist executes a take-your-breath-away move.
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Everything about the moment is choreographed to amaze. And a night full of such moments is precisely what makes the annual Cirque des Voix unique.
This year’s show runs for three days (Friday-Sunday) at the Ulla Searing Big Top between Nathan Benderson Park and the Mall at University Town Center in Sarasota. It is the culmination of months of preparation and coordination between the Circus Arts Conservatory of Sarasota and the Key Chorale.
“When we first talked, we didn’t want nostalgic circus music,” Key Chorale artistic director Joseph Caulkins said about the eight-year collaboration between himself and Pedro Reis, the founder and CEO of the Circus Arts Conservatory. “We wanted to find our own language.”
They also needed to find a different rhythm to putting shows together. They did not, however, have to change the way they put the shows together.
“It wasn’t a challenge at all pairing music and acts together,” Reis said. “Every act works with music. For me, the most powerful medium out there is music. It affects you emotionally. It makes you cry, makes you laugh, makes you happy or sad. I know you can take a beautiful aerial act and find a beautiful piece of music. It isn’t the act in the ring itself that shines. It is when you add the pieces of music that your heart gets plucked. When you add additional lighting that level goes up.”
For Cirque des Voix, that rhythm begins after Labor Day with the selection of the music, or at least the theme.
“I put together about two hours of music to throw at Pedro and say, ‘What speaks to you, what doesn’t,’ ” Caulkins said.
This year that process was easier because the music of Danny Elfman (this year’s theme) had been kicked around by both men for years. Elfman is a composer best known for his work in movies, including “Batman,” “Spider-Man” and “Edward Scissorhands.”
While Elfman’s music has appeared in previous Cirque des Voix performances, this marks the first year the show has been built around a single composer. That means approximately 75 percent of the music in the show will be his.
“Based on the music, I’ll say that definitely (goes with) high wire, or juggling, or something else,” Reis said. “Then I’ll scout to see (which acts) are out there and are available. In January, we get the acts finalized.”
Though the circus acts are all turn-key performances – meaning the performers have a standard act they can walk in the door and perform – much of what audiences at Cirque des Voix see are exclusive to that show. According to Reis and Caulkins, acts now tailor their performances to the music. And, Caulkins is doing more editing or augmenting to arrangements to get their length to match the performances than he did in the show’s early years.
“The only thing that has really evolved is the intentionality of each act to have their act fit the music,” Caulkins said. “The first few years they kind of did, but not like it does now. It has gotten so much more integrated, and I think that is what makes the show much more powerful.”
In February, Reis and Caulkins finalize the show lineup based on the rigging, or set-up, needs of each act. The goal is to keep the time between performances at an absolute minimum, in most cases less than 30 to 45 seconds, to keep the 2 hour show — with an intermission — moving.
In the end, there are only two full-show rehearsals before opening night.
“You are hiring turn-key acts; they know their stuff,” Reis said. “As for the music lineup, the orchestra and chorale can read music.”
“It goes together so quickly because everyone is so skilled at what they are doing,” Caulkins said. “The orchestra, choir, Pedro and his staff are all great.”
And the crowd, which is expected to sell out all three shows once again, gets a night full of moments six months in the making.
Details: “Cirque Des Voix,” 7:30 p.m. March 23, 2 p.m. March 24 and 5 p.m. March 25, Ulla Searing Big Top between Nathan Benderson Park and the Mall at University Town Center in Sarasota; $20-$55. https://circusarts.org/buy-tickets.