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A more intimate Cirque

New York troupe’s ‘Untamed’ allows up-close access

Ben Franklin and Megan Loomis perform. Ben Franklin and Megan Loomis perform. (Alden Fulcomer)
By Karen Campbell
Globe Correspondent / May 31, 2011

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A chandelier descending from the rafters transforms into a merry-go-round upon which exotic creatures cavort. Three aerial aliens dance and tumble in midair. A haggard crone wearing a cloak of newspapers sweetly plays the violin. And a tuxedoed gentleman drops down from the ceiling, clearly a stranger in a strange land.

Welcome to Suspended Cirque’s “UnTamed: The Wild Underground,’’ a world premiere aerial circus theater work commissioned by the Boston Center for the Arts, to be performed Thursday night. Proceeds from the event will benefit various programs at the BCA.

Through Canadian companies like Cirque du Soleil and Cirque Éloize, productions that blend aerial acrobatics and circus skills with music, dance, and theatrical narrative have become mainstream entertainment. The five-member New York troupe Suspended Cirque is considerably more modest in scope, and the resulting intimacy is part of the point.

“We’re inspired by Cirque du Soleil,’’ says company cofounder Ben Franklin. “They do amazing things that are huge, epic, but far away. We like to be right next to you so you can reach out and touch us, and to tell real stories the everyday person can understand.’’

Franklin calls the troupe a “get-up-and-go, do-everything-ourselves’’ kind of company, putting shows together collaboratively and directing by committee. The BCA show is not only the company’s Boston debut, but its first performance outside New York, where the performers are artists in residence at the Galapagos Art Space in Brooklyn.

The company’s members — Franklin, Joshua Dean, Michelle Dortignac, Angela Jones, and Kristin Olness — bring a range of personal and artistic experience to the table. “I’m a music theater boy,’’ says Franklin. “I worked extensively at Lincoln Center, did national tours. . . . We all found aerial in our own ways. I kind of got dragged into it, and now it’s my life.’’

Cofounder Jones says aerial work is a vibrant medium for artistic expression, not just a showcase for virtuosic movement. “We want to do so much more than simply show off skills,’’ Jones says. “We all have something to express, and that’s what makes the show strong, that we each can bring something different to the table physically and emotionally.’’

The troupe has created six shows over the past 2 1/2 years, including one with a jazz band. “UnTamed’’ includes a crew of guest artists: the violinist/vocalist Megan Loomis, ribbon dancer Lani Corson, contortionist duo Lissome Ladies, and Jordana Che Toback and Dancers.

“UnTamed,’’ which draws from the company’s recent “Subterranea: An Urban Fairytale,’’ is an immersive show that takes place in an underground fantasy world. “I play a man dropped through the street into another reality,’’ says Franklin. “He finds himself surrounded by a lot of different types of creatures. Pan is the mischievous ringleader. The three girls are based a little on the Greek Fates, with magical powers; they begin as cocoons in hammocks [who] awaken and take him to their queen, who is a phoenix type, older, decrepit. But his singing brings her back into her glory.’’

Suspended Cirque plans to take full advantage of the Cyclorama space. “To have a huge room that’s intimate enough that our smaller company won’t be swallowed in, but with a grid that makes almost every part of the space riggable, that’s like a dream for an aerialist,’’ says Franklin. “In New York, it’s hard to find venues with grids that can sustain the weight and are high enough to do anything of real interest. The Cyclorama is a huge space in the round where we can rig exactly where we want, and that has opened this work up creatively for us.’’

Karen Campbell can be reached at karencampbell4@rcn.com.

UNTAMED: The Wild Underground

Suspended Cirque, June 2 at Cyclorama, Boston Center for the Arts. Tickets: $50-$175. 866-811-4111, www.bcaonline.org