A few months ago I interviewed Guy Laliberté, the founder of Cirque du Soleil, reporting on the book he had created after flying through space in the international space station for eleven days and shooting over 10,000 pictures. An amazing, inspiring and amusing man of 53 who had begun performing as a teenage accordianist, fire-eater and stilt-walker in a Quebec park in 1983, joined with some twenty acrobatic friends to create a unique assemblage of street artists who first came to Los Angeles next year for a show, not even knowing if they had the fare to return home. Of course we all know what has happened, with Cirque du Soleil now an organization of 5,000 people with 1,300 performers from close to 50 different countries. Guy did tell me that more than 100 million people have seen Cirque shows in 300 cities on five continents. I reviewed their Iris show now playing at the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood and have seen most of the seven shows they are producing in Las Vegas, with O being one of the single greatest exhibitions I can ever recall enjoying in my long life.
So when their publicity guy, Tim Choy, asked me if I wanted to attend the opening of the limited-run performance of their new OVO show at a huge blue-and-yellow Grand Chapiteau tent at the Santa Monica Pier, I was right there on Friday night with my friend, Caroline Graham, a journalist who has been covering Cirque for various publications for many years. I understand that, since its premiere in Montreal in 2009, over two million spectators in 15 North American cities have enjoyed Ovo and watching the insects. Yes, you heard me right, insects. Bugs. That's the theme they have captured, and if you feel queasy around all things buzzing, it will take a few minutes for you to become absorbed into the world of these amazing creatures... ants, flies, butterflies, cockroaches, lady bugs, grasshoppers, spiders, fireflies, even fleas. I asked Tim what Ovo means and he said it is Portuguese for 'egg.' (Why Portuguese? I presume it is because the music has been composed by a Brazilian, Berna Ceppas, who combined bossa nova and sambas, with funk and electro music. And the director is also Brazilian, where they speak Portuguese.) All I know is that when the lights went down, the 'insects' started crawling around the stage (and the theatre), and I was immersed in a headlong rush into their colorful ecosystem teeming with weird life. As Caroline said, "It's a non-stop riot of energy and movement as we watch them crawl, flutter, eat, work, play, fight and look for love." Who would have dreamed I could be engrossed for almost three hours (with a 30-minute intermission) in such a strange world?
I won't try to explain what happens when a mysterious egg appears in their midst, but you can be reassured that it features the usual coterie of extraordinary performers, here 55 of them from 14 different countries (many Chinese, I think). A stunning flying trapeze act in which six flyers soar 40 feet in the air, making this the biggest act of its kind ever to be presented under a big top by Cirque. I've been a big fan of juggling all my life (even producing a movie about the world's greatest juggler, W.C. Fields, before he became a comedian). Here, in Ovo, Tony Frebourg transcends all other practitioners of the art whom I've ever seen. It was so magnificent it was almost inhuman... sending four spinning spools very high into the tent before coming back to earth was unreal. We both agreed that the finale, with 20 artists running, jumping and leaping up a 24-foot vertical wall was a breathtaking conclusion to an amazing evening.
I do hate to be critical in any way of an organization I so admire, but one minor note: the show could use a little editing, for it ran on a bit too long... though the cheering kids and families didn't seem to mind. I almost crawled out of the tent on all fours with my antennas waving in the sea breeze. I noted in the program that the writer/director/choreographer, Brazilian Deborah Coker, was the first female director at Cirque. Playing there until March 12th, you can get tickets by going to their website, cirquedusoleil.com/ovo or at the boxoffice at the tent.
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