History will be made on Wednesday, when Cirque du Soleil comes to Portland for the first time.

The Montreal-based troupe, which mixes colorful circus arts with the energy and spirit of street entertainment, will perform eight times over five days at the Cumberland County Civic Center.

Cirque du Soleil has made its reputation for thrilling audiences with performances that combine human feats of wonder, strength, dexterity and agility, including juggling, balancing, jumping and spinning.

“Saltimbanco” features a cast of 51. It will showcase acrobatics and athleticism, but no live animals. All of the music will be performed live, and the show is full of color, drama and spectacle, said “Saltimbanco” artistic director Neelanthi Vadivel.

“Saltimbanco” is Cirque du Soleil’s longest-running touring show, and the one the company likes to use to introduce itself to new markets. It’s the company’s calling card, and the show around which the company has built its reputation for the past 20 years.

“We’re known all around the world, except in Maine,” Vadivel said. “We’ve opened up more than 150 new markets with this show. It is the show for us that has opened the door for all the other shows to come afterward.”

Saltimbanco literally means “to jump on a bench.” It explores life in the city — the people who live there, the energy of the street and the allure of tall buildings.

The show does not tell a story per se, Vadivel said, but instead weaves a tale built on allegory and physicality. It feels baroque, dreamlike and fanciful.

“Saltimbanco” lasts about 21/2 hours and is divided into three primary acts, including Chinese poles, the Russian swing, and bungee and trapeze aerials. Along with those three acts, the show includes many more small vignettes that occur throughout the evening.

There is plenty of audience interaction, and the cast has room to improvise.

“At any given time, there may be two performers on stage or up to 40 or 50. There is a lot of layering and texturing with our shows,” Vadivel said. “There is always something going on, little quiet moments and bold acts of theatricality.”

The set is huge. It will encompass about half of the civic center, leaving each show with a seating capacity of 3,200. The civic center is one of the smallest venues in which Cirque du Soleil has performed in quite some time, Vadivel said.

As artistic director, it is Vadivel’s job to safeguard the spirit and vision of the show, despite the infusion of new performers. Each performer brings a different set of skills, and Cirque du Soleil likes to allow each to express himself or herself. But it’s important that the structure of the show remains intact, Vadivel said.

Cirque du Soleil jobs are not easy to land. The company employs around 5,000 people, of whom about 1,400 are performing artists. It has about two dozen shows that tour around the world.

Vadivel joined the company as a dancer. She grew up in Montreal, and was aware of Cirque du Soleil from a young age.

She received her training in contemporary dance, and applied for a job with Cirque du Soleil. She waited three years for her call, and spent more than two years touring with the production “Dralion.”

“I enjoyed the touring, and I was proud to be a part of the show,” she said. “It was fun performing for 3,000 people every night.”

Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or:


Twitter: pphbkeyes