Left – Animation. Cover – Foreigner arrival. Photos – OSA Images. Costumes Liz Vandal
An entity unto their own, Cirque Du Soleil have transitioned in recent years from a mere avant-garde contemporary circus company into an internationally successful corporate brand. Their latest production to tour Australia, Ovo is very much reflective of that shift. It is thoroughly immediate, imminently accessible and utterly spectacular – but ultimately somewhat hollow.
From a technical standpoint, it is nigh-immaculate. It practically gleams. Taking place in a specially constructed venue, Ovo's set is a sprawling, amorphous construction that allows for colossal foliage, secret passages, web-like netting, trampolines, high-wires and all manner of intricate, endearing details and devices. The music – performed live by a nine-piece band – is as eclectic in composition as it is precise in delivery.
The performers are especially masterful. From dramatic skills like clowning and audience interaction (a mimed duel to the death being particularly impressive) through to exemplary demonstrations of circus skills like trampolining, chinese pole, trapeze and acrobatics. It's the performers that really shine throughout Ovo. The penultimate scene of the work (a combination of trampolining and wall-crawling) is genuinely mind-blowing.
Still, beyond that technical mastery, Ovo doesn't seem to offer a great deal for its audience. The overall concept – a comedic look into insect societies – is simplistic both in conception and execution. The narrative is equally minimal. In actual fact, narrative is fumbled rather amateurishly in the piece – a second act seeing characters and relationships spontaneously re-evaluated with no regard to the work's internal logic.
That narrative laziness is somewhat indicative of the production's values. Ovo begins with a simple story as is – an outsider arrives in a community of bugs and conflict ensues – but to fumble such a basic storyline reveals either a critical deficit in knowledge of narrative mechanics; or a critical deficit in interest. The narrative exists solely to allow some vague excuse for the company's technical wizardry.
There's nothing inherently wrong with such an approach. Certainly, Ovo succeeds spectacularly well as a spectacle (though its second act almost falls short of its first). It would be a hardened heart that couldn't whoop with glee when the scarab beetles soar from swing to swing on the trapeze. There's just not much that stays with you after the show is concluded. You remember tricks – not feelings.
It's particularly disappointing when you recollect glimpses of the work's potential. Moments that suggest something more than a festival of light and movement. A straps duet between two butterflies, for example – evolving from an already-beautiful aerial silk performance of a cocooned metamorphosis – suggests a beauty and profundity that is rarely touched upon for the remainder of the performance. There's a romance in the aerial choreography.
That said – it seems churlish to register too much complaint on such grounds. Ovo is fun. It's escapist. It's gorgeous and silly and idiosyncratic. Children will love it and adults will remember why they once loved the circus too. One could do a lot worse with a theatre production. Whether or not you'd prefer they do better will largely be a matter of taste and priorities.
Cirque Du Soleil
Written and directed by Deborah Colker
2012/2013 AUSTRALIAN TOUR
Under the blue-and-yellow Big Top
Brisbane – From July 14 until September 2, 2012 at Northshore Hamilton
Sydney – From September 13 2012, Showring at The Entertainment Quarter, Moore Park
Adelaide – From December 6 2012, Tambawodli (Park 24)
Melbourne – From January 17 2013, Melbourne Docklands
Perth – From April 14 2013, Langley Park