By Don Heckman
The bugs took over the beach next to the Santa Monica pier last week. The bugs and a mysterious egg, that is. Bugs in the form of the brilliantly talented members of Cirque du Soleil, revealing their extraordinary physical virtuosity in their latest show, OVO.
For this installment of the company’s numerous events, they have again returned to Santa Monica via their original circus roots, in a 180,000 square feet big top tent – Grand Chapiteau. The huge yellow and blue enclosure has become the home for a “teeming and energetic world of insects.”
The gifted Cirque du Soleil creators – writers, directors, choreographers, designers, composers, costumers, lighting, set and sound designers – along with the performers, of course, only need the stimulus of a fundamental idea to get their juices flowing. And the notion of applying the unique Cirque du Soleil style to a world of insects was enough to produce one of the company’s most unique efforts.
On Wednesday night, the performance opened with the subtle incursions of Jonathan Deans’ sound design – a wildly imaginative collection of rustling beeps and squeaks, sudden roars and rhythmic pulsations. Next, and continuing throughout the evening, the music of Berna Ceppas followed with a stirring collection of melodies, textures and pulsations resonating with the appeal of Cappas’ Brazilian roots. Superb as accompaniment, it was more than good enough to stand on its own as a compelling collection of songs.
The bug motif was especially apparent in the evocative costuming of Liz Vandal, whose vivid imagination produced insect legs and wings, attached to the performers in a kaleidoscopic array of colors. And Gringo Cardia’s imaginative set design managed to create the atmosphere of a bug world with convincing suggestiveness rather than over staged specifics.
As with all Cirque du Soleil productions, of course, it was the performers themselves whose efforts demanded the greatest attention via a series of set pieces showcasing extraordinary physicality from individuals, duos and ensembles.
Among the ensemble high points: the jaunty food and body juggling of the sextet of Red Ants; the elegant, beautifully balanced formations of the Acrosport yellow and red fleas; the extraordinary, height-defying trapeze work of the Flying Act scarabs. And, perhaps most impressive of all, the remarkable running, leaping, climbing, trampoline-driven action of the 20 performers in the climactic Wall number.
The duo of Butterflies offered a graceful pas de deux on a rope, in a balletic blend of artful strength and flexibility.
Among the soloists, the firefly Diabolos masterfully juggled up to four spinning spools in arcs high above the stage. In Orvalho, a dragonfly displayed the incredibly difficult art of balancing on one hand. And in Slackwire, a spider accomplished the seemingly impossible task of balancing on a slack wire.
Finally, there was Creatura, a strange, bulky figure, part-insect, part-slinky, with limbs twisting and stretching in seemingly impossible directions.
Despite the title – OVO – the large egg that surfaced from scene to scene had little to offer in the way of story continuity. Nor did the comedic interplay between a pair of quirky bugs and a ladybug add much actual humor.
But no matter. The vibrant insects of OVO were irresistibly entertaining, fully capable of conducting their audience into a world rich with visual delights.
Photos and video courtesy of Cirque du Soleil