Circus acts, belly dancing and classical ballet unite

by Lenise Willis

North Carolina may have missed out on Cirque du Soleil’s performance of OVO earlier this year, but thankfully one touring theatre from Asheville is bringing all the dream-like fantasy and creativity of comedia dell’arte to the Winston-Salem stage with its original production of Tarocco: A soldier’s Tale.

“Tarocco unfolds much like a dream,” said Nat Allister, general and artistic director of The Fox & Beggar Theatre. “Somber, meditative, delicate, curious (and) beautiful to behold. It does not have an obvious story with a typical, linear narrative.”

The original production, written last year by Allister himself, uses multiple art forms to weave a single narrative of history and fantasy. The production, which is inspired by the Italian tradition of Comedia dell’arte, much like the shows of Cirque du Soleil, is a mesmerizing juxtaposition of circus acts, dance, mask-and-puppet theatre, original music, ornate costumes and complex animation.

Premiering in Greensboro near the 100 th anniversary of World War I, the story centers on an Italian WWI infantryman, who, trapped behind enemy lines with a dying comrade, passes the time by crafting stories inspired by the images on Tarot-like cards.

Allister said he chose to make World War I the focus of the story for two reasons: “Firstly, we are currently in the centennial anniversary of the war, and I believe it should be remembered this year and next. And secondly, it has always felt (to me) like the worst war in history; it was fought over nothing, and brought old-fashioned battle tactics up against modern technology, creating some of the saddest massacres of good young men in our species’ history. So, to me, this was the perfect environment to spawn a mental rebellion against the horrors of reality.”

With handmade Venetian costumes, breathtaking acts, live musical performances, moving backdrops, giant puppetry and digital animations of Alexander Daniloff’s stunning, hand-drawn “Tarocco Piemontes,” the performance promises to be as intricate and enticing as the storyline itself.

The eclectic performance features 12 performers, including actors, puppeteers, aerial dancers and musicians. The performers’ backgrounds are as vast as the art forms included in the production; while some are local to Asheville, others are from as far away as California and Montreal.

“I believe that Asheville is a melting pot of the arts, and the more creative minds we mix together here, the better the result,” Allister said. “The diverse backgrounds of my artists certainly strengthen the production.”

“It’s been a treat,” Allister added about working with a variety of performers and art forms. “I love walking into rehearsal every day and getting to interface with an entirely different art form than I had been the day before. One day we dive into ballet; the next, Butoh (Japanese dance theatre), and after that, belly dance. And yet, they all tie together perfectly under the narrative of the show.”

The musicians, performing live on stage, will bring to life the score of Marcin Bela, who wrote the original music over the course of a year. “The music is an absolute masterpiece,” Allister said. “Stylistically it moves around the world, but flows together perfectly by remaining in the same key and cycling back to the same familiar themes. It is haunting. And Lisa’s vocals really kick it to the next level.”

Asheville’s The Fox & Beggar Theatre was founded in 2013 with the mission of bringing “dreampunk cirque nouveau” to the performing arts community. The shows typically feature dark, academic storylines t hat are told through numerous art forms. It is a 501 (c)(3) nonprofit organization.

“This marks the beginning of the future for us; producing new and edgy works to tour up and down the East Coast,” Allister added. “It’s exciting to be working in so many fantastic theaters, and to begin cultivating relationships with their staff. And it’s exciting to be reaching out into so many new markets.” !

LENISE WILLIS, a graduate from UNC Chapel Hill’s journalism school, has experience in acting and ballet, and has been covering live performances since 2010.


The Fox & Beggar Theatre presents Tarocco: A soldier’s Tale for one day only July 30 at the UNCSA Stevens Center, 405 4 th St., Winston-Salem. Tickets are $26 general admission. For tickets and more information (including on their continued tour) visit