In their sharp pinstripe suits, Hamish McCann and Leon Fagbemi look like any other smartly dressed businessmen taking a lunchtime walk around Victoria Park in Auckland.

But look more closely and you'll see that their shoes aren't quite right. McCann wears black ballet slippers; Fagbemi plimsolls.

That's because they're The English Gents and they need soft-soled shoes so they can clamber around one another and perform see-it-to-believe-it feats of acrobatic skill, strength and balance.

The extreme acrobats are in town to perform with the equally extreme cabaret, La Soiree, one of the international highlights of the Auckland Arts Festival. The annual festival begins today, bringing to town 50 music, dance, theatre and visual arts shows with 1000 performers, aged 6 to 63, from 20 countries.

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La Soiree will be performed in the Victoria Spiegeltent in the Festival Garden in Aotea Square.

Along with the spiegeltent, the Festival Garden is home to the iHeart Radio Sound Lounge which offers free performances from early afternoon.

The line-up includes Esther Stephens and Paul McLaney, DJ Belleville, Walters Booth Quintet, Leonard Charles and The Spooners as well as Mara TK performing the songs of David Bowie, Anna Coddington doing the songs of Prince and Trip Pony covering George Michael hits.

La Soiree opens tonight as do the light and sound show Power Plant, in the Auckland Domain, Cirque Eloize's iD and homegrown comedy Cellfish.

Auckland Arts Festival
Venues all over Auckland until March 26