SM PIER — Be forewarned: this is not your normal Cirque du Soleil performance.
Cirque du Soleil is best known for putting on a surreal visual display of sets, costumes, and of course, acrobatics, but the live music is also an important feature of any Cirque show. And tonight during the Santa Monica Pier’s Twilight Concert Series, the live music will be the feature.
For the first time ever, some of the musicians of Cirque du Soleil will be on stage playing their original compositions and arrangements of their favorite songs.
The concept, dubbed the PARADE Collective, was designed to help support the artists who provide the musical backdrop for Cirque’s shows by giving them a chance to perform their own material with the help of the company, said Roger Butterley, casting advisor and music scout for Cirque du Soleil, who is serving as creative director on the PARADE Collective.
Butterley was chosen to guide the Collective because his job at Cirque made him personally suited for selecting the musicians. And, when he put out the call for any musicians that wanted to participate, the response was overwhelmingly positive, Butterley said.
From there, it was just a matter of hammering out how long the sets would be, and who would be performing with who; an easy task, because most of the artists have already worked with each other. It’s an interesting setup, because every musician in the ensemble will not only be playing for the crowd, but for each other as well.
For the performance, the musicians will be formed into eight groups backed by other Cirque musicians, each with their own set of styles, talents and influences, from funk to afropop to jazz and R&B.
“A good example is a vocal group called Vox Indigo,” Butterley said. “They feature three of our singers, and they’re already a self-contained group.
“In their band, they have a couple of people who already play with them. To fill out their band for this particular concert, they have other musicians from Cirque.”
And Santa Barbara-born Dina Emerson, a singer in Mystère by Cirque du Soleil and one of the founding members of Vox Indigo, is looking forward to taking part in the performance.
“I feel incredibly fortunate to be able to participate, and the full support of the company is behind us,” she said. “We absolutely love our jobs, but to have the opportunity to perform our own music is very special.”
The core group of the international Vox Indigo is four singers and a guitarist, but thanks to the other Cirque musicians, the band will be augmented for the performance and feature bass, drums, percussion and cello, Emerson said.
The expanded group will do what Vox Indigo normally does: eccentric homages and deconstructions of some of the band’s favorite artists.
“We take familiar cover songs, and we completely rearrange them,” she said. “We change the style, too.”
Soulful British singer Adele is a big influence on the band, but also expect to hear Vox Indigo turning Dolly Parton’s country popper “Jolene” into Latin jazz, and forge Pink Floyd’s anthemic “Comfortably Numb” into a lyrical ballad.
And that’s only one act; everything from a 14-piece band to traditional African music is part of the set, and all of it featuring some of Cirque’s most talented artists: Canadian rock saxophonist Eric Plante, cellist Dena Massaro, who has performed with YES and the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, Los Angeles-based classical and jazz pianist Otto Ehling, and jazz percussionist John Abraham, who will be providing the drums for all of the acts of the Collective.
The audience will get nothing if not an eclectic show.
“I’m so happy that kind of opportunity exists for people, because they’ll be exposed to a really amazing range of talent and style,” Emerson said of the performance.
And it’s an opportunity that Cirque is happy to be bringing to Santa Monica.
“We have a deep standing affinity for Santa Monica,” Butterley said. “Cirque has a long-standing connection with the pier; it was sort of the birthplace of Cirque in America in many ways.”