SALT LAKE CITY — Manuel Rebecchi's water circus began with a single bottle of water.
The Italy native, whose family owns the Circo Moira Orfei, came to the United States after growing up among myriad performers and animals. He attended a circus in Florida one day, however, and what he saw "was not professional at all." This shocked him because Americans have the best ideas for any type of show, he said.
But the solution came to him as he sipped a water bottle: create a water-based circus show.
Since 2012, Cirque Italia has grown from an idea inspired by a water bottle to a traveling show that uses a 35,000-gallon water stage, performs for over 2 million people in about 50 cities each year and includes over 30 performers from 25 countries, according to its website.
It's also coming to Utah for the first time from June 7-17 in Provo and from June 21-July 1 in Salt Lake City.
Rebecchi said people can go to any water park, but no one's ever had a traveling water show.
"I think people will love it. It's something unique, something that no one's ever designed before," he said. "It's a modern, high tech show."
'Unique piece of art'
Rebecchi said although Cirque Italia's tent looks like a circus tent, audience members will feel like they're "under the sea" when they walk in because of the tent's blue and white colors. He also said its 4½ foot high water stage can raise about 32 feet above ground, allowing performances with water.
"It's a very unique piece of art traveling the United States," he said.
Tim Orris, media relations representative for Cirque Italia, said the stage can hold 35,000 gallons but typically only contains 3,000 to 6,000 gallons at a time; however, that's enough to frame their acts with water when the stage raises, such as shooting the water up or replicating rain.
"It just gives it more of a Las Vegas ambience," Orris said.
Orris, who previously worked for another circus for 30 years, said his old circus needed 13 semi-trucks to move equipment, but Cirque Italia operates with only 15 trailers and five trucks (though multiple trips are necessary to transport gear).
In addition, everyone does more than one thing — the jugglers might direct traffic, for example, while a performer takes tickets — which allows them to hire fewer people, which in turn keeps their ticket prices low.
"We try to make it affordable for families," Orris said, adding they also try to keep their concessions in the $5 range. Additionally, locally distributed promotional codes are available to admit one child under the age of 13 for every adult ticket purchased. (For both Utah shows, the code is NEWS.)
Cirque Italia performs both a silver and a gold version of its show; the primary difference is simply size, with the silver version seating 1266 people and the gold version seating 1500. Utah audiences will see the silver show.
Unlike most circuses with elephants and dancing dogs, Cirque Italia does not feature animals. Rebecchi, who grew up around circus animals, recalled the cruelty with which he saw many circus animals treated, including being chained in hot trucks for long hours and not receiving enough food and water.
He also believes that technology developed over the last 20 years surpasses any need for animals.
"I've proved to millions of audiences in the United States that they can have a good time and (they) don't need to make an animal … go around in hot trucks all day long," he said.
Instead, Cirque Italia has filled its shows with acts such as Juliette Carballo, a 17-year-old contortionist who shoots a bow and arrow with her legs; Anna Helena Zeman, a former America's Got Talent contestant who completes a dozen full clothing changes in under three minutes during a "quick change" act, and who also does a roller-skating act with her husband; and hand-balancing act Gimmi Fornaciari, who Rebecchi said is "the only one that can sing like Pavarotti upside down."
Orris said Cirque Italia doesn't tour outside of the U.S. to avoid visa complications; however, the show goes as many places as possible within the U.S., and they picked Utah because Cirque Italia could perform in both Salt Lake and Provo.
Both Orris and Rebecchi emphasized that Cirque Italia is a highly family-friendly show, both in its performance content and its ticket prices.3 comments on this story
"I want to do something for the American family, with all the stress that we've been going through (during) the past years," Rebecchi said. "They can have a couple hours of good entertainment and go home with a good memory."
If you go …
What: Cirque Italia
When: June 7-17
Where: 1200 Towne Centre Blvd., Provo
How much: $10-$35 for children, $20-$40 for adults
Promo code: NEWS to admit one child under the age of 13 for every adult ticket purchased.
When: June 21-July 1
Where: 155 N. 1000 West, Salt Lake City