On a chunk of land behind Sandestin’s Grand Boulevard, three white tents stretch to the sky, surrounded by large signs pointing to the main attraction: Le Grand Cirque, which my friend and I are here to experience on a balmy Thursday night.
This traveling show, comparable to Cirque de Soleil, has garnered high praise for its amazing stunts. The excitement builds when we enter the first tent, which serves as a foyer and looks like an actual building with black-and-white checkered flooring and realistic “walls” behind the snack bar and box office. A cluster of umbrellas hang upside down from the tent’s peak, draped in fabrics, beads and white lights.
The arena in the auditorium tent is intimate, with stadium seating close to the stage. Music pulses and red and blue lights travel through fog as a mime warms up the audience. When he finishes performers flood the stage in a flurry of sound and color, climbing poles the height of the tent using only their hands, extending their bodies horizontally and wrapping themselves around and upside down. They descend the poles headfirst using only their feet to stop them, while other acrobats climb billowy sheets dangling from the ceiling and yet others perform stunts on the ground.
A group of men stack silver rings high on a trampoline and tumble through them, followed by a girl who balances eight full-size chairs (and another girl climbing them) on her belly. Another performer slings hula hoop after hula hoop around her body – I lose count at 15 – and even swirls one around her ponytail. One guy folds himself into a metal cylinder the size of a holiday popcorn tin and folds himself back out.
The most impressive act of the night is the Wheel of Death: two men inside what look like hamster wheels, only without sides, balanced on either end of a giant pendulum. As they walk around the pendulum rotates like a Ferris wheel. One of the performers gets out and walks on top of his wheel, then does it blindfolded. It’s fascinating to watch them spin effortlessly, probably 70 feet in the air, without cables and now without sight. They go for several rotations before the wheel slows and the man slips off his blindfold.
The Cirque continues, two hours in all; a man balances a gymnast performing in a giant gold ring on top of his head – yes, on top of his head – and teams of performers hold each other by the neck and swing from sheets attached to the ceiling.
The night comes to a close when the cast joins the audience to toss giant beach balls back and forth. The house lights come up and the acrobats retake the stage for the finale; we linger to snap photos (since photography is strictly prohibited during the show) and finally exit via a tent flap, then talk about the show the whole way home. Our conclusion: Le Grand Cirque is grand indeed.