*published on 23 June 2012 in The EDGE
Cirque du Soleil started nearly 30 years go as a gaggle of 20 street performers in Montreal. Now a mega-brand with 5,000 employees including more that 1,500 performing artists from nearly 50 different countries, Cirque still regularly evokes the ethereal magic that seduced so many of us decades ago.
Even though more than 100 million spectators in nearly 300 cities on six continents have seen Cirque du Soleil, on the night of the summer solstice in New York’s opulent Radio City Music Hall, it seemed that my guest, a first time viewer, was enchanted and transfixed. This newest show, “Zarkana,” is written and directed by Francois Girard and it seems loosely to be a quest for identity in the boundless abysses that is one’s inner space or in outer space.
What I find with quality circus is that it exhorts me with the best of what we humans can be within our physical limitations. We see acrobats, high-fliers, jugglers, dancers and they all seem to have transcended the slowness or clumsy moves with which normal humans struggle so regularly. And they also make giant mistakes right in front of us.
The ball bounces wrong, the catch from the flier is missed, or the ladder wiggles and the tower of acrobats jumps to the ground. And they do it again. They take it from the top right before our eyes. There is no CGI to make things bigger or faster, more colorful or safer. No, the allure is in the vibrant reality. And we do watch on the edge of our seats.
Zarkana spun a web of seduction where as each act took the stage, artfully interspersed with a duo of clowns who could have come out of Waiting For Godet for all their hapless wonder, I thought “Oh this is the one I most love, this is definitely the one.” And so it went all evening.
My first love was the sturdy Asian acrobat who walked up a straight ladder which he balanced on the stage floor. He also deftly balanced a teetering ballerina in canary yellow tights on his forehead. Then she took a ladder and climbed up it as it rested on him, until they were a weaving tower of terror and beauty.
Then my crush was a princess high above the proscenium in a nest of purple feathers wriggling and rolling as she sang a mournful tune. Quickly an athletic blond in peach colored spangles was tossed and somersaulted on a flexible balance beam flying high into the air and snagging my attention and affection. Then there were fire breathers in a Venetian palace, and a clown shot from a cannon floated right across the audience dripping white feathers. From his launch into space came another reality where everyone from projections to real cast members were inside metal hula-hoops of varying sizes running, spinning and becoming planets.
The evening is packed with dream-like images, ones you can call up when the fitfulness of modern life threatens to unseat your ability to drift off into the arms of Morpheus. Save the vision of a stage filled with upside-down umbrellas all glowing as performers dangle as if portraying a dyslexic Mary Poppins dance. Or the beautiful sand drawings rendered on an enormous glass desk, which resembles a snowball.
An artist sits at the desk drizzling blue sand onto the desktop and we see everything enlarged on an overhead projector. Images of the scenes we just marveled out are replayed for us in ever changing sand drawings to oohs and ahhs. A young prince in loose clothes dances; really his pace is so languid that he drawls his dance, as if his movements echo the slowness of the South. He is almost limpid as he melts down, flips over and drips his body to and fro.
The music is a combination of drones, songs mostly rendered in indecipherable tongues and is trance inducing. The entire show lasts about 90 minutes, but is packed with enough visual beauty, awe inspiring athletic prowess and wonder to inspire a full summer’s worth of reverie.
“Zarkana” runs through September 2 at Radio City Music Hall, 1260 6th Avenue in New York. For info or tickes, call 866-858-0008 or visit cirquedusoleil.com/zarkana or ticketmaster.com