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breathtaking feats of skill

Saltimbanco: Cirque du Soleil, The O2

> Garreth Murphy

A HANDFUL of manic clowns stream down the steps of the O2. Audience members unlucky enough to be in aisle seats are surveyed before a half-dozen unfortunates get picked for a public ribbing.

This is a fitting introduction to the world of Saltimbanco, a heady mixture of comedy, song, dance and mime peppered with jaw-dropping acrobatics and trapeze artistry, which has just started its run in the O2.

One of the 21 Cirque du Soleil shows touring the world, Saltimbanco is based around the circus, albeit one without animals. It's a winning formula, as the audience spent large portions of the two-hour show breaking into spontaneous applause.

It's well merited, as the Saltimbanco performers are extraordinary athletes.

In one of the most memorable early segments, in a rousing blaze of colour, song and dance, several of the dancers hold their own body weight with the aid of only a single hand, eliciting gasps of astonishment.

Brilliantly choreographed, the show is awash with colour, music and dance. A highlight of the first section is the Artistic Bicycle.

A clown wheels onto the stage on a gaudy racing bike. At first it seems as though he's there for comic relief, until he stands up the bike, hands balancing at impossible angles as he dances with it.

Early in the second half of the show, two acrobats take to a trapeze high above the main stage. Within seconds, the two are slinging each other around above the arena. With no obvious ropes and certainly no safety net, it's a remarkable precision-based performance.

Although some of the segments feel long in places, Saltimbanco offers plenty of laughs and more than one moment of awe.

Saltimbanco runs until July 18 at the O2, tickets start from €35, plus booking fee. See www.ticketmaster.ie for more details