Posted by: Mickey Goodman | November 15, 2010

Cirque du Soleil’s “Ovo”

Oh, “OVO!”

That's one big Ovo!

I confess. I’m a Cirque du Soleil junkie. I fell in love the first time I saw a performance of “Nouvelle Experience” under the blue and gold striped grand chapiteau and many years and many shows later, I’m still besotted — especially with the current production, “Ovo,” which is as good as it gets. Well, almost. “O” in Las Vegas – a combination of unimaginable daring in and out of water — is still my fave, but Ovo is a formidable rival for my affections.

It’s easy to guess the meaning of the silly-sounding three-letter word (“egg” in Portuguese), and the show begins with a little bit of silliness up and down the aisles. Then, with a dollop of magic, a splash of brilliant color and a burst of music, an army of loveable bugs invades the stage. Voila! The tableau unfurls taking the audience into a magical world of insects, one that would appeal even to insectophobes.

The stamp of Cirque’s first female director, Brazilian Deborah Colker, is apparent in the delightful off-again, on-again romance between a rotund ladybug and an energetic electric blue fly who enters carrying an enormous egg on his back. She flirts, he makes his moves too quickly; she backs off; he follows. And so it goes throughout the performance.

Woven into the loose plot are spectacular acts. A pair of butterflies encased in transparent silk cocoons performs a pas de deux high overhead. A group of impossibly flexible ants juggle over-sized kiwis while flipping themselves from onto one another. A firefly sends multiple spools soaring to the peak of the grand chapiteau – and catches them handily. Scarabs fly through the air with the greatest of ease. Grasshoppers leap. A headless human slinky glides effortlessly across the stage.

I find each act more mesmerizing than the one before, but it is the grand finale that leaves me breathless. An army of insects vault from trampolines and power tracts and walk/run straight up a vertical wall without artificial support. They climb, drop, criss-cross, and leap again and again at an ever-increasing pace as the music builds to a crescendo. It will leave you gasping too.

Behind the scenes

As if seeing the performance weren’t excitement enough, Cirque publicist Marie-Claude Asselin graciously escorts me behind the scenes to the self-contained city that travel with electric generators and everything they need other than water and food.

Cirque is a microcosm of the world’s population featuring 54 artists from (including three Olympians) from 16 countries. However, language is rarely a problem. Marie-Claude explains that there is always at least one bi-lingual performer who steps in to translate. Often, language is unimportant. All it takes is music and gestures.

As we sit on a sofa and chat in the compact practice tent, a new Chinese contortionist is learning a routine from a seasoned performer. The diminutive women are paces away on the rug directly in front of us and I can’t take my eyes off of them. It’s clear, they don’t speak the same language, but between the video, the music and the instructor’s gestures, the newcomer quickly picks up the arm movements. I wait in vain for the contortionists to bend in unbendable ways. First, Marie-Claire explains, she needs to walk through the routine.

Despite the fascinating scene right under my nose, it’s impossible to ignore a trapeze artist swinging high overhead and two seriously muscled trampoline artists hurling through the air at the opposite end of the tent. Oddly, a series of long green “leggings” dangle from the tent’s peak. They look vaguely familiar, but I can’t place them. I look quizzically at Marie-Claude who jogs my memory about the grasshoppers’ costumes. Marie-Claude shrugs and laughs, explaining that every square inch of ground space is needed for the practice equipment, dressing rooms and the more than 100 costumes (two per artist).

We walk into the grand chapiteau to have a peek, and even in broad daylight with no audience and no performers, it is, well — grand. During the performance, I had wondered if the vertical wall had hidden handles for the artists to grab in an emergency. After careful study, I conclude that there are no second chances. If anything, the wall look more formidable up close than from afar.

By the numbers:

  • 2 years – time it takes to bring a show from concept to reality,
  • 3  performers are from the USA,
  • 100 to 155 Atlantans were hired to work onsite,
  • 25 children travel with their parents,
  • 1 week – performers’ time off between cities while the crew totally dismantles and rebuilds the tent complex at the next city,
  • 51 trailers needed to transport tents and equipment,
  • 300 people are fed daily onsite
  • 5 people repair, wash and care for the costumes,
  • 15 to 53 – ages of performers,
  • 15 minutes to 1.5 hours – amount of time needed for performers to put on their makeup
  • 2,600 – seating capacity of grand chapiteau.

Travelgram Tips:

  • Don’t wait too long buy your tickets for a special holiday treat. They’re going fast and Cirque leaves January 2.
  • Best for ages 6 and up.
  • Visibility is great from nearly everywhere (though the center sections are optimum).
  • Arrive early. Parking at Atlantic Station can be tricky (and depending on the crowd, your spot could be a good distance from the entrance).
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