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With ‘Holidaze,’ Cirque Dreams’ creator leaves no candy cane unturned

Arianna Auber
aauber@statesman.com

Since Neil Goldberg was 8 years old, walking to school after the holidays and noticing tossed-out Christmas ornaments with the trash along the sidewalks and streets in New York, he has collected ornaments in much the same way that a tourist might collect souvenir shot glasses at each vacation spot.

Now, he has about 10,000 ornaments, bought from all over the world, some of them not Christmas-related. These ornaments are the inspiration for his current project, a holiday-themed show lighting up the Long Center for the Performing Arts on Tuesday through Sunday.

“Cirque Dreams Holidaze,” rolling into town for eight shows in the midst of a 32-city tour, is a production from Goldberg’s brainchild, Cirque Dreams, a global entertainment brand he formed in 1993 to showcase European-style circus shows very different from the Barnum and Bailey-type of circus Americans know.

But make no mistake — “Holidaze,” Goldberg promised, will be a spectacle, with about 300 costumes, 32 performers and a 30-foot Christmas tree packed into the two-hour event.

“It’s Radio City meets the circus on Broadway,” he said, noting that “cirque” is French for “circus.”

The show features the performers as ornaments, such as toy soldiers, reindeer and gingerbread men, coming to life on the massive tree. Marching, spinning and soaring around the stage, the performers — whom Goldberg, creator and director of “Holidaze,” recruited from all over the globe — won’t all be executing the same physics-defying moves.

In fact, with three Cirque Dreams companies undertaking the same show in different U.S. cities, as well as abroad on U.S. military bases, replicating the various acrobatic feats can be a little tricky because each performer has particular talents.

But still expect an eye-popping show set to holiday music classics like “Winter Wonderland” and “Jingle Bell Rock.” Just seeing the curtain pulled back and many of the performers crowded onto the 30-foot tree, a “breathtaking” first sight of the show, will wow the audience, Goldberg said.

He has made a career out of dazzling audiences, including at two Super Bowls and a Miss Universe pageant. Cirque Dreams, with his production company Cirque Productions, came to fruition after he’d traveled around the world and been exposed to the European-style circus that he calls “true performance art.” As the brand became more well-known, he decided to house the company in one large complex in Pompano, Fla.

“I always wanted to have one place where I could gather all of these visions of mine and other creative people,” Goldberg said.

Called Dream Studios, the complex has two buildings, one with a 10,000-square-foot rehearsal stage. Every component of Cirque Dreams performances is carried out at this complex; the costumes are manufactured there, and music is written and practiced there. And, of course, it’s also the place where the performers practice their moves.

To anyone visiting, Goldberg said, Dream Studios looks like a dollhouse-size version of Disney World. To him, it’s the 40,000-square-foot version of the shoe box he made when he was 6 years old and wanted to replicate the sets he’d seen at his first Broadway show, “The Miracle Worker,” which moved him so much that he majored in set design in college.

“I was always a daydreamer,” Goldberg said. “‘Dream’ is a common thread in my life. Instead of looking at the blackboard as a kid, I would look out at the sky, thinking about what could be.”

He said that he decided to call his overarching dream “cirque” to help reinvent the word “circus” — although there is another performing arts group doing just that, too: Cirque du Soleil.

The Quebec-based company filed a lawsuit against Goldberg’s, and others, in the late ’90s over the use of the word “cirque,” but a federal court found in Cirque Dreams’ favor, stating that the word was too generic for only Cirque du Soleil to claim it.

The similarities between Cirque Dreams and Cirque du Soleil don’t bother Goldberg. With four more Cirque Dreams shows scheduled for 2013, he is too busy with his work and just wants to deliver spectacular, memorable entertainment for audiences.

“I have artists who can show what the body can do and what the mind can do with imagination,” Goldberg said. “Put that on stage and it’s a real spectacle.”

‘Cirque Dreams: Holidaze’