The Viewing

I saw on Christmas 2007 on arte (www.arte.tv) our German-French satellite TV cooperation. It was first aired on Christmas eve as a special feature where the actual show was presented on TV and a behind-the-scenes version in parallel on a second channel or via an synced Internet feed. This second part seems to have been constructed from the show itself and additional interviews and footage that can possibly be found on the Kà Extreme DVD. I saw it a second time one day later late at night.

The Story

Well, as in all of their production, the Le Cirque du Soleil have wrapped all their show inside a storyline. While in the greater scheme of things this gives all the shows a unique direction and ultimately also serves as the basis for the distinct differences between them when it comes to costumes, looks and performance, nobody would of course assume to be presented with a Shakespearean play. The individual threads are often just a means of taking the action from one place to another to allow for the next performance.

is no exception to that. The story of the young prince and princess who are taken away from their beloved home by an opponent to the emperor and thrust into a wild trip through various locations merely serves as a vehicle and isn't really that hard to grasp. Over the course of their journey they meet a few new friends, a lot of funny people, strange creatures and learn a bit about love.

The rhythm of the show is very straightforward - each adventure of one of the main protagonists is played out in one performance followed by that of the other one until they meet again near the end.

The Look

Although the whole story is set into the realm of the old China, the overall design doesn't strictly adhere to it. If at all, the Chinese theme is only visible in the opening and the end as well as some battle scenes in-between. For the rest of the time you are presented you are presented with the Cirque's now notorious men (and woman) in tight suits, clowns with artificially inflated bellies and bosoms and a few rubber creatures.



The Spandex People

Now, as a gay guy I'm certainly not objecting to seeing well-trained men in Lycra suits in all their glory, but this time around I couldn't really get to grips with the design. Many of them feature heavy tribal tattoo-like paint jobs which makes them look very aggressive and doesn't really fit with the rest of the story. This is even more noticeable as those "warriors" often really only do stand around the stage or do dumb fighting.

The Inflato-Clowns

Those are actually quite funny as there are several of them, male and female. They are around for a big part of the story and protect our imperial children. I would even go so far as to say that they are getting more stage time than the main heroes.

The Latex Monsters

Well, that is the part I found really cheesy. Even if you give credit to the fact that this is a show aimed at a very broad audience, including children perhaps, the cliché is carried a little too obvious. Putting people in a crab suit, turtle, starfish, cricket or caterpillar doesn't really qualify as artistic interpretation of the them in my view. You can see such lame stuff in every cheap theater in the provénce.




The Execution

As you would expect from a resident show that is exclusively hosted at a Las Vegas hotel resort, the MGM Grand, the technical side of it is impressive.



A large part of the event takes place on a platform that is hinged from the rear of the stage and can be freely rotated in pretty much every direction. This is used to great effect to tilt it upwards for climbing vertically or having people slide down a slope. It also plays a pivotal part in the overall concept. For instance the whole beach scene, which uses cork pellets for send is quickly resolved by tilting the platform and having the "sand" fall in the vault below.

In addition, often people will fall into that vault in fight scenes or after their performances. Of course there are nets and air cushions in it which need to be removed and put into different places throughout the show, keeping the stagehands busy. This is nicely illustrated in the documentary parts.

The top cover of the platform is made up of translucent material, effectively allowing it to act as a projection screen. This is used in some scenes to generate rock-like patterns and most notably in the vertical fight scene where it interactively responds to the movements of the warriors hanging from the ceiling.



If that wasn't enough, there is more technical trickery. The columns and pillars placed in the auditorium are used as shooting platforms in some scenes and you can actually see pneumatically fired arrows flying through the air.

In the jungle and industrial sceneries, columns and scaffolding occupy the scene that are just as high as the stage is wide. This gives the whole stage a feeling of enormity, but while it looks cool on TV, I'm not sure if it would be as interesting when you actually sit in the theater. The characters would be rather far away from the viewer and look a bit tiny. In other scenes better use is made of the hight, whether it's the "infinite" drop to the bottom of the ocean or the flight from the top of the world.

The light design is very straightforward and doesn't take many risks. Because of the large dimensions of the performance area, there is quite a bit of light most of the time and things can be seen clearly. An interesting aspect is the use of the vault as a pool for massive fog. in combination with a few different light colors this helps set the mood and obviously also acts as a transitional element when the stage is being moved or rebuild in-between scenes.

The performance

Unfortunately, while it's the Cirque du Soleil, this show doesn't have much circus in it. The whole concept is more theatrical or varieté and thus you are not presented with too many occasions where the artists can show their talent. On the other hand credit has to go to the fact that the creators didn't fall for some stereotypical platitudes, either. Neither do you see people juggling and balancing noodle cups, nor is there an abundance of "snake people" (contortionists). The parts that are in place are well executed, but the big surprise is missing.

Conclusion

All in all, is a solid show. Even with its shortcomings, it's impressive and time flies as you are watching it. You certainly won't be bored. However, let truth be told, if you are looking for more classical circus performances, one of the Cirque's traveling shows like Alegria or Varekai would be a better choice. Nonetheless, you can spend your evenings in Las Vegas with less cultured activities and therefore anyone with half an interest in this stuff should go and see it. I certainly know that if I ever can manage to visit NAB (www.nab.org) at least once in my life I will try to see "O", and perhaps Céline Dion if I can get tickets and the shows are still running.


Website:
www.cirquedusoleil.com

Image credits:
© Cirque du Soleil,© Total Production US (www.totalproductionus.com), Kundan Sen (photos.kundansen.org)

All images and trademarks are property of their respective owners and are used with permission.

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