By Don Heckman
There’s not much doubt about what to expect from a Cirque du Soleil performance. The formula of extraordinary physical feats, exotic sets and atmospheric music has been well established. And most people leave a presentation by the gifted Canadian troupe with a sense of sheer wonder at the magical events they’ve just experienced.
One can say exactly the same thing about Iris, the current Cirque du Soleil production at the Kodak Theatre. Conceived for that specific location, Iris is described as a “journey through the world of cinema,” and what better place to present it than in the very heart of Hollywood.
At last week’s presentation of Iris, all the familiar Cirque du Soleil wizardry was present. All that and more. But Iris is more than a physical and musical extravaganza. Written and directed by Philippe Decoufle with music by Danny Elfman, it’s a collection of extraordinary set pieces, wrapped around the theme of a boy and a girl – Buster and Scarlett – in the midst of the motion picture world of fantasy and illusion. There’s not enough of a story, as such, to create much empathy for Buster and Scarlett, but the visual and aural world that surrounds them is utterly mesmerizing.
Start with the two male acrobats who fly through the entire upper spaces of the Kodak, suspended by straps. As a physical feat alone, it would be astonishing. What makes it even more than that is the refined elegance of the acrobats’ movements, of their almost symbiotic interaction with each other.
Add the shadow projections across a screen in rear stage, calling up ancient cave wall images, humanity’s earliest visual expressions. And the updating of Icarian games, the acrobatic foot juggling that is one of the earliest circus arts. Here, it was done with eight artists, spinning and leaping with mind-blurring speed and skill.
Each of the stunning displays of imaginative derring-do was impressive in its own right, but the sets, the staging and the music were equally powerful entities. The movie set sequence, for example, captured the multitudinous events taking place on a large motion picture stage, with multi-level layers of activity interconnecting via complex timing. The result was magical, so filled with color, movement and activity that it would have taken repeated viewings of Iris to fully grasp all its dramatic nuances.
Remarkably, it was followed by the almost equally intriguing film noir set, an atmospheric view of a city at night, with action of every sort taking place behind the windows. In front stage, gangsters fought and shot at each other, while springing from roof to roof via soaring, trampoline leaps. Here, as elsewhere, the music — performed live by players positioned in boxed seats on either side of the stage — added intense emotional seasoning to every scene.
And there was more, much more: a female trapeze artist – swinging down close to the stage as a janitor with a broom swept beneath her in total admiration; hand balancing acrobatics by the heroine, Scarlett; a group of costumed women fearlessly sailing back and forth on trapezes positioned at the very top of the Kodak ceiling.
It was, in other words, yet another wonder from Cirque du Soleil. Not surprising that it was, once again, a performance to remember. More than that, it offered convincing evidence of this superlative company’s ability to find ever-astounding ways to dazzle the eyes, enchant the mind and enliven the spirit.