Cirque Dreams Holidaze Aims to Whisk You Away for a Few Hours

I had the chance to chat with Neile Goldberg, the founder and director of Cirque Dreams about the new show Cirque Dreams Holidaze coming to the Chicago Theatre December 12-16. Goldberg’s award winning and critically acclaimed shows are over the top luxury at a time of year when eye candy is the name of the game—so what makes Holidaze stand out from the other Christmas-themed shows? The answer is circus. While most people are adding layers of sweaters, baking another batch of cookies and hibernating, how refreshing is it to see the spectacle and grace of humans celebrating Christmas with adventurous physical feats and a dash of danger? Goldberg agrees, and shared his insights with me.

People are so busy during the holidays, but Cirque Dreams seems to be offering an alternative to the rushing around. What is it about circus in particular that provides holiday stress relief?

Photo courtesy of Cirque Dreams

Cirque Dreams Holidaze is stylized as part contemporary circus, part Broadway musical and a non-stop holiday stage spectacular. One of today’s greatest diversions remains clever, innovative and mesmerizing entertainment. Escaping for two hours into a fantastical place without boundaries, limitless imagination and pure “how do they do that” performance artistry is the essence of Cirque Dreams Holidaze. Folks commonly leave a Cirque Dreams Holidaze experience feeling like they’ve been transported into the holiday spirit and wanting to begin celebrating the seaso

How did you get your start in circus and how does it help you as a director?
My career started in the entertainment industry as a director and producer of variety entertainment. Creating spectacle productions for the likes of Super Bowls and projects worldwide. Theater was my passion from childhood and throughout my education. Contemporary circus arts entered my repertoire in the late 1980s. The attraction as a director was blending my imagination and theatrical experience with variety artistry and circus acts into lighthearted story telling–then adding various themes to enhance the experience. Cirque Dreams Holidaze does exactly that. Twenty scenes presented in two acts with an intermission, each have their own theme and story recreating holiday memories, fantasy and happenings from penguins in the North Pole, tree ornaments and gift shopping to Santa’s appearance, floating Chanukah candles and a NYE celebration. There’s something in this show for everyone.

What is the theme for this year’s show?
The theme for Cirque Dreams Holidaze remains true to the holiday seasons. Every year we add new scenes, more elaborate production numbers, new acts, music and wildly imaginative costumes.

Cirque Dreams has been around since 1993 and produces many circus shows a year and yet it is a lesser known success story in a time when people think American circus is floundering. In your opinion, is circus timeless and surviving? Or is there a renewed interest in this form of entertainment?

Photo courtesy of Cirque Dreams

In my opinion, there will always be a place for circus artistry and unique variety performances throughout the world’s entertainment landscape. The word “circus” or “cirque” truly no longer describes the American circus tradition of the past 100 years.  In the late 1890s, Jules Verne presented “Cirque Municipal” in France and blended his imagination with the presentation of performance artistry. This concept has been re-energized today by companies like Cirque Dreams and audiences can find these renewed types of acts on mainstream television, movies, the Broadway stage, social media and more. Cirque Dreams continues to remain a leader in seeking out some of the best acts in the world and presenting them in our shows before they are ever seen in other mediu

What was your inspiration to create Cirque Dreams? What circus company was a model of ingenuity in circus that inspired you?
Jules Verne’s “Cirque Municipal” was my original inspiration for creating Cirque Dreams. The color, energy and spectacle of traditional circus attracted my imagination to blend Broadway theatrics with every Cirque Dreams presentation.

How diverse is your cast in terms of culture and circus disciplines? Where do they all come from?
In 2018, Cirque Dreams Holidaze has five companies performing in the United States simultaneously. Collectively, there are over 150 artists from 15 different countries speaking dozens of languages. They’re from France, Spain, Italy, Russia, Ukraine, El Salvador, Ethiopia, Latvia, Portugal, Hungary, Poland, the US and more.

 Your productions are well known for their attention to set design and costumes. How important is that to the tone of Cirque Dreams Holidaze this year, and why?

Photo courtesy of Cirque Dreams

Costume and set design is one of my greatest passions.  Enhancing a story thru texture and visuals elevates every moment on stage.  Cirque Dreams Holidaze is set in a wonderland of oversized gift boxes, toy soldiers, candy canes and trees. Over 500 costumes, hats and props are adorned with nearly 10,000 Swarovski crystals, rhinestones and beads, each radiating the glistening season.  Every costume tells its own story enhanced by the artist that wears and brings it to life…from small hand puppets to 15’ tall marionette-like manipulated costumes. The many layers of scenic and costume elements throughout Cirque Dreams Holidaze creates spectacular appeal for a wide age range of audiences

What are some highlights of this year’s show? What is the biggest crowd pleaser?
Audiences are surprised when the curtain rises and the stage reveals a multi-million dollar holiday wonderland. The show quickly accelerates into a fast-paced series of action, acts, costume changes, illusions and more. The New Year’s Eve scene is a spectacular acrobatic romance. The end of Act 1 transforms the entire stage into the largest gingerbread house and 24’foot tall cookie through an adrenaline paced series of flipping, spinning and tossing thru the air. The slippery penguins near the end of the show are always an audience favorite in a fun filled presentation of gravity defying balancing. The aerial acts of soaring ribbons, flying angels, twirling soldiers and more always energize the crowd leaving them in disbelief from their daring and dangling routines.

As you travel around the US with this show, who is your main audience for Cirque Dreams Holidaze?
As a child growing up in New York City, one of my fondest memories of the holiday season was when my parents would take me and my siblings, stop on the way into NYC and pick up our grandparents and enjoy together the holiday tradition of the Radio City Christmas Spectacular. This memory was one of my many inspirations for producing a show that not just appealed to audiences of all ages and cultures but would entertain virtually anyone with an appreciation for theatre, circus arts, variety talent and pure imagination.

Cirque Dreams Holidaze will be at the Chicago Theatre December 12-16. Tickets range from $25 to $125 and are available at Ticketmaster.

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Kim Campbell

Kim Campbell (They/them) is a freelance editor, podcaster and creative writer who has spent a career focusing on the arts, particularly literature, theater and circus. Former editor of CircusTalk News, they have written about theater and circus for Third Coast Review since its very beginning. Kim is a member of the American Theater Critics Association and the International Network of Circus Arts Magazines. In 2019, they were on the jury of FIRCO in Madrid (Circus Festival Iberoamericano) and in 2021 they were on the voting committee for the International Circus Awards. See their tweets at @kimzyn or follow them on Instagram.

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