Cirque du Soleil’s OVO, which premiered in Montreal in 2009 and has been touring ever since, sets a new standard in entertainment, bringing together the company’s tradition of death-defying acts and spectacular visual theatre with a more coherent narrative than in previous productions. The result is dramatic, joyful and unforgettable.
The choice of theme – the insect world – is perfect for this modern-day circus. The days of performing animals may be over, but our fascination with other species is gratified by this wonderful recreation of the realm of crickets, butterflies, fleas, spiders, dragonflies and all things bug-like. Powered by extraordinary human energy, the creatures fly across space and contort their bodies into fantastic shapes, filling us with fear, delight and incredulity.
OVO is a riot of colour, the vivid greens of crickets, the red and yellow of fleas, the deeper red of spiders and ants, the blue of a dragonfly. Liz Vandal’s stunning costume designs evoke the spirit of each insect, borrowing ideas and textures from the worlds of superheroes, corseted costumes, suits of armour and origami. Most performers have two costumes: one for acrobatic work and the other, more elaborate one, for theatrical pieces. The three characters – the Ladybug, the Foreigner and Master Flipo, who link the acts with their comic interludes – also have flamboyant costumes that define their character.
It is the choreography though, and the performers’ ability to imitate their creature’s movements that give us the sense of being in the same world as these insects. This is the first Cirque du Soleil production that Deborah Colker has directed. She is also its writer and choreographer. Her strength as a choreographer lifts the show from a series of linked set pieces to a unified narrative with each individual connected emotionally to the other performers and to the audience. With Director of Creation Chantal Tremblay, she has brought a sense of joy to the show that is rare in these days when dark and violent undertones predominate.
Every facet of the show – music, costumes, set design, lighting and make-up – fit together to create this uplifting effect. The eight-piece band plays live onstage, with the musicians dressed as cockroaches (no doubt a pun on the Latin dance step cucaraca) and directed by Brazilian composer Berna Ceppas. Samba and bossa nova are the dominant rhythms, with funk, electro music and sampled insect sounds providing contrasting dramatic tones. Ceppas collaborated with Colker when she had her own dance company, as did set designer Gringo Cardia, so it is not surprising that the elements that make up OVO work seamlessly and to such powerful effect.
I may have dwelled on the artistic teamwork that makes this production special, and yet it is the acts, and the amazing people who perform these incredible feats, that are at the centre of the show. There is no compulsion to choose a favourite, when each is unique, beautiful, entertaining and jaw-droppingly dangerous. Ants juggle fruit and veg (not to mention each other) with their feet; butterflies make love on the wing in an aerial display; spiders cast a spell with their contortions or defy gravity with superhuman balancing acts on a slackwire; and a funny and flexible firefly juggles four diabolo spools with superb coordination.
The most exciting of all are the ‘flying scarabs’, comprising eleven trapeze artists, perched high in the big top, with a net slung far beneath them. This is the biggest act to have been staged in any of Cirque du Soleil shows, with six performers flying as high as fourteen metres, and is the most difficult in the world to execute because of the distance between stations. Watching the artists wind up to their leaps on the Russian swing or chair, there is a heart-stopping sense of jumping into the infinity of space.
The ten fabulous green crickets have their moment of glory in the trampo-wall act, discarding their extra legs to perform in their pared-down costumes. With the help of trampolines and power track, they run up an eight-metre vertical wall, where spiders and smaller creatures cling and slither. It is an exercise in sheer physicality and the joy of movement, exhilarating to both performers and audience alike.
The finale is a satisfying revisiting of these characters that we’ve come to know and love. Master Flipo, the Foreigner and the delightful Ladybug lead the insects in a swarming and vibrant banquet, before everyone takes a bow and responds in character to the standing ovation. We stumble out of the Grand Chapiteau, all too aware of our physical inadequacies, but energised and emotionally shaken by these extreme performers and the spellbinding story they weave.
Cirque du Soleil presents
Directed by Deborah Colker
Venue: Grand Chapiteau | Docklands Drive, Docklands.
Dates: 17 Jan – 31 March 2013
Tickets: from $74 to $265 adult and $64 to $245 child
Bookings: www.cirquedusoleil.com or Ticketek