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My wife and I saw Cirque Dreams: Illumination at the Durham Performing Arts Center last night, and it was about as impressive as what developers did nearby in converting a shabby bunch of warehouses into the American Tobacco Historic District, now an upscale complex of offices and restaurants, punctuated by waterfalls.

Like other shows in the Cirque brand, this one brings circus and specialty acts to the stage with an international cast of performers. Last night’s show included illusionists, balancers and aerialists from Russia, contortionists from Mongolia, balancers from Belarus, a dancer from Cuba, and “foot manipulators” from Argentina (a man uses his feet to throw his brother around). Several hailed from the U.S., including a singer, a “dance popper,” a strolling saxophonist and a vagabond clown who was funnier than I expected.

We got there early, and in reading the program I was surprised to learn about the educational background of some participants. I knew there were a couple of clown colleges in the U.S. that offer intensive short-term training, but some other countries take it more seriously.

A Ukrainian man who stacked chairs to the ceiling while climbing up the pile and then doing tricks on the top learned his trade at the Kiev State College of Circus and Variety Arts. Four limber young women who twisted, combined and contorted their bodies in a variety of ways — including high in the air on a spinning cube — got their education at the Mongolian State School of Contortion. Did you know such a thing existed?

In the States, I’ve observed, we’re less likely to contort our bodies and more likely to contort our words and our actions, often twisting the truth or rationalizing bad behavior in truly amazing ways before appearing on the evening news.

We’re naturally talented, I guess: we don’t even need a College of Contortion.

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