Family’s performance legacy has come full circus

Posted Feb. 03, 2010, at 4:50 p.m.

Martin Lamberti has the circus in his blood. He’s part of a family that has a centuries-long connection to performing. It started with Baron Von Stei of Germany, who, according to family legend, abandoned his castle in the 16th century to join a Gypsy troupe. That circus spirit lives now in Lamberti, a lead performer with Cirque Dreams, a performance troupe taking the stage at 8 p.m. Friday, Feb. 5, at the Collins Center for the Arts on the University of Maine campus in Orono.

“My parents were German immigrants who came over here in 1929 with the Ringling Brothers,” said Lamberti, 55. “They were high-wire artists. Everyone in my family has some sort of connection to performance. My grandmother taught Hoagy Carmichael to play piano. Show business is our business.”

Lamberti got his start extremely early — at the age of 3½ he was hand balancing. Juggling soon followed. He got his professional start at the age of 8, when he performed with his father.

“He did a somersault off the tightrope, and I came out just before he did it with a butterfly net that I held underneath him,” he said. “So, really, the first thing I did was comedy. I haven’t stopped doing it, either.”

Lamberti has won top honors in festivals throughout the world for his juggling, pantomime and illusion skits. He created the original “Bell Symphony” for Cirque Dreams in 1997, and took on the roles of the Vagabond and the Director in the current show, “Cirque Dreams Illumination.”

Cirque Dreams, founded in 1993 by artistic director Neil Goldberg, was the first American company that combined the European cirque style of performance artistry with American circus arts and Broadway theatrics. It had a long-running Broadway show, “Jungle Fantasy,” and a number of touring shows, including Friday’s performance of “Illumination.”

Colorful, exotic costumes, music, acrobatics and illusion all come together in “Illumination” — and Lamberti is the narrator of sorts, the connector between the audience and the artists, who comments on the action onstage. In his other big scene, he plays the director of a silent film, and brings audience members up to participate.

Lamberti has spent most of his life thus far in the performance arts. If there’s one thing he hasn’t done yet, it would be to produce his own show.

“That would be my dream, certainly,” he said. “But I’m so happy with what I’m doing currently, that I’m perfectly OK with doing that for a while.”

As for his amazing family history, it seems perfect fodder for a book of some sort.

“It’s so interesting, and I have to admit, I thought of writing something about the stories my father told me,” he said. “It’s almost like a family dynasty. It does seem like a novel.”

“Cirque Dreams: Illumination” will be performed at 8 p.m. Friday, Feb. 5, at the Collins Center for the Arts at the University of Maine. Tickets are still available by calling 800-622-TIXX. For more information, visit www.cirqueproductions.com.

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