I am told that when was a small child I really loved the circus. This is before my memory begins, so I'm taking my mom's word for it, but sitting in the audience at Zarkana in the presence of the fantastic Cirque du Soleil performers, I thought there must be something to that. My inner child and my more cynical adult self both watched in awe as things that I had not thought possible were done on the Radio City Music Hall stage.
I have come to expect nothing less from Cirque du Soleil. I saw my first show of theirs, La Nouba, almost a decade ago and I remember the sheer excitement of the experience. It was magnificent and entertaining for the same reasons Zarkana is so wonderful: Cirque always has an excellent blend of spectacular sets and virtuosic performers.
Of course, going to see a show like Wicked or The Lion King, two of my favorite currently running Broadway musicals, can make you feel like you have a firm grasp on a kind of spectacle that brings a smile to your face as you appreciate the scale. But if you haven't seen a Cirque du Soleil show, my friends, you ain't seen nothing yet. It helps that Radio City Music Hall is a magnificent space, spectacular in its own right because of its grand scale. But added to the grand architecture are spiderweb sets, an impressively large gear machine called the "Wheel of Death," a live projected screen of sand art, and freestanding high wire, to name a few.
And on these impressive structures, and sometimes just in the vast emptiness of the large stage stand some of the most talented acrobats and performers I have ever seen. I have often remarked that what draws me to dance is a kind of inspiration for the potential of the human body. This is exactly what mesmerizes me when I watch pieces such as Zarkana. I sit there with a huge grin on my face as act after act does things that seen physically impossible. They defy gravity, they fly in the air and on the ground, and they execute all of this with superhuman precision.
This is not to say that everything is without a hitch. The precarity of the performers is very real, but what is proven time and again is that safety is a priority. It is here that another side of these performers' expertise is revealed, as they know how to catch themselves, remain graceful and make you wonder if everything isn't still going according to plan.
There is, of course, a plan. There is also a plot, albeit a loose one. For those of you who read my articles often, you know that I can be a stickler for plot. However, in this case I would have watched act after act with no obvious connection between any of them. Yet there were certainly themes here, and even though the sung text is not in English, there are elements and characters that return again and again.
The costumes are based on the American circus of the 20s and 30s, and the master magician, Zark himself (Christian Goguen) and his troupe of clowns lead us through the various acts. The story is visually interesting, and the audience is kept engaged in between the acts by two clowns in particular and the rest of the clown troupe in general. The overall dynamic stage picture is visually enthralling, and it reveals writer/director François Girard's impressive background in many artistic mediums.
Zarkana will excite you, shock you, and generally entertain you whether you're 9 or 99. I walked out of the show with a huge smile on my face and a genuine wish that the show was not over. The imaginative thinking of these artists and performers is an inspiration to me, and I am willing to bet it will be for you too. At any point in the circle of life, make sure you make Zarkana a stop on your path.