Review | Cirque Italia makes a splash with acrobatics and stunts in Coralville

Acrobatics, jugglers, waterworks, and a pirate clown — Cirque Italia’s Water Circus blew attendees out of the water at their performance under the big top in Coralville Thursday night.


Parker Jones

An acrobat swings across the stage during a Cirque Italia performance on Oct. 13, 2022.

Parker Jones, Arts Editor

Seagulls, rushing water, dramatic instrumental music, scents of popcorn and funnel cake, and the voices of pirate carnival barkers advertising their wares filled the chilly autumn air. Chatting families trickled into the big top of Cirque Italia’s Water Circus in the Coral Ridge Mall parking lot Thursday night.

From Oct. 13-16, the circus is in town. Cirque Italia is an Italy-based circus with a custom water-spouting stage. Its current touring show is titled “Cirque Italia: Water Circus,” which features pirate-themed performances of acrobatics, juggling, and crossbow stunts.  

Before the show, attendees entered the blue and white tent under a glowing sign and were greeted with the circular stage and set, comprised of two pirate ships illuminated in red, and scaffolding decorated with Jolly Roger flags, sails, and fake crows’ nests that mimicked the masts of pirate ships. 

A booming pirate’s voice announced five minutes to showtime, while families spent their doubloons on concessions and glowing light sticks to wave around in the crowd. The lights went dark, replaced by strobing colors as employees prepped the stage. 

Donning a striped shirt, red cap, and clown makeup, a cabin-boy-turned-clown drew the attention of the audience, making humorous faces and speaking a combination of Italian and gibberish. He set the story in motion for the rest of the show, holding up a brightly-colored map and indicating his search for buried treasure.  

After the clown ran off, the first act began: a series of crossbow stunts performed by a pirate pair in glittering uniforms. A woman held balloons up in front of a skull-and-crossbones target, two in her hands and one in her mouth, while they popped from all the way across the stage to gasps from the audience.    

The next act was one of the most memorable: the lights took on a purple and blue hue, and fog machines shrouded the stage. Water shot in a circular pattern from the stage, and out from the shadows appeared a mermaid with a glittering tail and matching bralette. 

She ascended into the air and began flipping and twirling, when a male acrobat took to the air, dressed in a sailor costume. They performed together in the air, matching each other’s energy for an impressive show of grace, balance, and strength. The mermaid shed her scales and transformed into a human before flying across the stage; the two shared a kiss midair.   

While prepping for the next act, a pirate fiddler took the stage and the audience clapped along for a quick sea shanty. Then, a hula hooper dressed in sparkling layers of sheer fabric performed a vibrant display of endurance as she spun several hula hoops around her waist, legs, and arms. 

After her performance, loud clangs rang out and a sudden swordfight captivated the audience. A pirate captain donning a tricorn hat interacted with the audience, giving high fives to children and throwing popcorn into people’s mouths. 

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The last act before intermission was a balancing act where a performer stacked various objects on a raised platform, including moving cylinders and a basketball, then stood on it for a lengthy amount of time.  

The most intense act came soon after the intermission, with a large metal contraption set up on stage. At one end it had a circular metal hoop that a man stood in, walking around it as it rotated vertically. There were moments at the top of the tent where he stumbled and nearly fell, earning yelps from the crowd that could be heard even over the heavy metal instrumentals that played. 

Another “Cirque du Soleil” performance followed featuring a woman hanging by her hair doing airborne acrobatics, followed by an impressive juggling scene and a pirate pole dancer. The final act saw the return of the same two performers in the mermaid and pirate acrobatic scene, but this time donning roller skates and matte blue suits. They orbited around on a small raised platform, at one point flinging each other around in a circle. 

The show ended with the clown pirate finding his buried treasure in a triumphant display, changing his costume from the cabin boy garb to the pirate captain’s uniform. Cirque Italia was ultimately an impressive aquatic feat, that combined the unlikely themes of circus acts and a humorous pirate story.