Rather to my surprise, I’ve become a bit of a Cirque du Soleil junkie and find myself going to a new show each time I’m in Las Vegas. I’ve already written about The Beatles: LOVE, which I found a wonderful experience.
Last time I was in Vegas the Cirque team was generous in providing tickets to “O” at the Bellagio and offering my friends and I a great behind-the-scenes tour and chance to meet some of the performers (as I wrote about at length here: Behind the Scenes at Cirque du Soleil “O”)
In this post, I’m going to focus on the show itself…
I will say right off that there are a couple of things that I could share that would be potential spoilers, but I am skipping those. Suffice to say, there are a couple of surprises, a bit of a mind game that the Cirque performers play on the audience that will either be a bit upsetting or a delightful surprised. Once you see the entire show, you’ll understand the logic behind it, trust me.
I’m also going to say that one of the things I really liked about The Beatles: LOVE was that I was already familiar with the music and the stories behind the major songs from the group, so there was somewhat of a “handle”, a hook upon which I could ensure I didn’t get completely lost in the trippy, surrealistic story. That wasn’t present in “O” and I did find myself a bit lost by what was going on, simultaneously surprised and baffled by the amazing visuals happening on and over stage.
Cirque marketing and social media manager Jessica Berlin tells me that most people tend to prefer the first Cirque show they see when they have been to multiple shows, so perhaps that’s a factor here too. If you’ve seen more than one show, perhaps you can add your two cents at the end of this article?
Let’s jump into the review, shall we?
Amazingly, the show has been running for over ten years: it first premiered in October 1998 and the beautiful Bellagio hotel and casino was actually built around the “O” stage. I’ll talk more about the astonishing stage in a minute, but according to the Cirque team, over 8.5 million people have seen “O” since it opened, there are 85 artists and performers who make the show a reality and they represent a global tapestry of 23 different countries.
That stage? It’s a 1.5 million gallon pool with a stage that can raise and lower within the pool to have a high-diver slipping into the water just to have another performer walking “across the water” just a few seconds later. An amazing technological feat.
As far as I can tell, the basic storyline revolves around the performer Philemon, who “is a young Sicilian boy whose curiosity and question for adventure transports him to an otherworldy realm where all of his hopes, fears and dreams come true.”
Rather than write an incredibly long review of all nineteen acts in “O” (the name’s from “eau”, French for water, btw) I’ll just cover some highlights, with photos, of course.
One of the first things that strikes you about Cirque du Soleil shows is the incredible costuming. As you can see in the above photo, they’re all in superb condition and are so physically fit that amazing feats like holding up another performer with one hand is doable. Amazing. They really do make it look easy.
You can also see the way in which water is such a major part of “O”, even in this act where it’s more about gymnastic work, at least in the initial phase.
In the previous picture you could see the gymnasts balancing a performer by her hand. Here you can see how this act, “Barge”, transitions into a phenomenal combination of gymnastics and acrobatic diving: divers are thrown up into the air and slip neatly into the water.
As with many Cirque acts, this features a multiplicity of performers in motion, so you also don’t get the luxury of a single person to watch. The result is much more fluid, much more of an experience than a performance. Very interesting, especially compared to the diametrically opposite structure of, say, the Olympics.
One of the more visually striking scenes in the entire show is their montage of a mythic, idealized African vista. The background is projected onto the curtain from behind and part of it is performers who move slowly, in a dreamy fashion, while others (the animals) are more akin to a shadow puppet.
What’s interesting about this visual imagery is that the very earliest theater was shadow play. Film, for example, evolved from the projection of light and dark onto a screen, making this a romanticized view of Africa, a glimpse into the beginnings of all performing art and a metaphor for the performances we all offer when we’re on stage each day.
This is one of my favorite images and a wonderful example of what I mean when I say there is “trippy” and almost hallucinogenic imagery used in “O”. This is one of “Les Comètes”, the guards who help shepherd Philemon, the young boy who represents each of us in this dreamy journey.
This act was weird and actually a bit troubling: this group of four women from Mongolia have been performing together since they were 8, and whether they all voluntarily agreed to have their spines removed or what, they were amazingly flexible. In fact, “flexible” doesn’t do their ability justice.
That’s what was a bit troubling or disturbing about this act.
They are really, really flexible and at times it was hard to watch and not imagine the extraordinary pain that I’d be in were I to even attempt to bend the way they can. Nonetheless, very cool, very visually arresting.
This is the “Bateau” (boat) and “charts the course of life and the pursuit of dreams…”. It’s essentially parallel bars suspended 25′ above the stage floor and the foundation for an astonishing sequence of acrobatic gymnastics by a crew of 13.
I have to admit that I wasn’t as impressed with the trapeze acts in “O”, though they were clearly amazing athletes. “Solo Trapeze”, aerialist Jamie Pannucci performs a very interesting sequence of moves that culminates with a dive into the water. The above picture is a beautiful one, which is why I include it in this review.
There were many more acts, some wonderful, some a bit strange, some a bit baffling. All featured strong images that challenged my comfort level, notably including Ray Wold, the performer who quite memorably is set on fire and sits on a chair, on fire, pretending to read a newspaper. His flambé moment actually lasts an astonishing three minutes and, according to Jessica, he’s done this for every single show they’ve had, meaning he’s been literally on fire for over 250 hours to date.
In the end, though, I don’t know whether it’s the “you always prefer your first Cirque show” phenomenon or not, but while I really liked this show, I still prefer The Beatles:LOVE because of the music and their use of imagery that I’m already familiar with. It was less disconnected to reality for me, which might, I admit, be exactly the goal of Gilles St. Croix, the creator of “O”.
I’ll be able to test this in December of 2009 when Cirque du Soleil is scheduled to open a new show in Las Vegas themed around Elvis Presley music and, presumably, imagery from his music and career. Like The Beatles: LOVE, I’ll be prepped, already knowing and liking the music and musician. And I can’t wait.
Finally, worth noting is that the ticket was $165 and the program another $20, so even without considering dinner, drinks afterward or time spent away from the tables, it’s an expensive entertainment, and if you’re a couple or have children, it could be incredibly expensive. Worth it? I certainly think so.
Actually, let me say that this show is not suitable for children in my opinion. As with most Cirque shows, it’s too complex, intense and oft-sexualized for children to feel comfortable and not be freaked out or frightened.
Also, a picture credit: all pictures are © 2009 by Cirque du Soleil and are included with permission of the company on this blog. Please do not republish these images without checking that it’s okay.