BUGS BEAUTIFUL BUGS
"Ovo," a Cirque du Soleil production under the blue-and gold Grand Chapiteau (big top) at Randall's Island.
Directed by Deborah Colker.
April 9 through June 6, 2010. Schedule varies. Tickets $55-140 at www.cirquedusoleil.com/ovo or 1-800-450-1480.
There is nothing to compare with a good Cirque du Soleil show: the continuous live music, the lights, the astonishingly innovative costumes, the colors, the acrobats and dancers. It's like entering a dream where you can do anything, twirl on a silk rope from the rafters of the big top, juggle fire, leap from trapeze to trapeze, or effortlessly scale a wall. Cirque is about human possibilities and daring. It's about team work and trust. Loss and discovery. And sometimes it's about love.
The Ladybug (Michelle Matlock) and The Foreigner aka Fly (Francois-Guillaume LeBlanc) in Cirque du Soleil’s "OVO." Photo by Benoit Fontaine.
"Ovo" is one of the best of the 21 Cirque shows making their way around the globe this year with international casts and different theme. Right now you can catch it on Randall's Island, a pebble's throw from Manhattan. It's perfect for kids and adults -- offering each of them a different experience.
The play is set in the insect world -- a brilliant excuse for outrageous forest shapes , seductive colors, and awe-inspiring movement. A foreign insect (Francois-Guillaume) -- more wise guy than gymnast -- has found a giant egg, which he intends for himself as food. But as he enters the ecosystem, he discovers a curvaceous spotted bug (Michelle Matlock Leblanc) -- and is totally smitten. They beep shyly at each other -- and will use these odd sounds to fight, flirt, and explain as their relationship follows the usual ups-and-down. But while he is flirting, his egg vanishes, and he goes in search. There are several groups of thieves, but the most interesting are the grasshoppers, with their elongated hind leg and awesome movement.
"Ants" in Cirque du Soleil’s "OVO" performing "Foot Juggling." Photo by Benoit Fontaine.
The insects are busy about their daily chores. Other forest creatures climb the tall grass, hide behind boulders, and make their way quickly across the stage (Gringo Cardia, set design; Éric Champoux, lighting). This is a vibrant world. A moth (Marjorie Nantel) wrapped in a taupe chrysalis hanging from the top of the big tent struggles her way loose and transforms the cloth that bound her into wings. Beautiful. A cluster of scarabs leap from web to web (trapeze to trapeze), landing on each other's shoulders. Butterflies, dangling by a foot or a hand held tight by their partners, twirl and twist high above us. On the ground, bands of fireflies and fleas juggle and leap into cheerleader formations. (Some of the performers look like precocious children.) The ants dance with giant green leaf wings. The rock climbing gymnastics on the 24-foot back wall, using a trampoline for thrust, are fresh and exciting. Every routine is daring, dangerous and beautifully choreography. All the while, the live musicians and singers (in full cucaracha regalia) ensure that we float joyfully through this Technicolor dream (Jonathan Deans, sound design).
A "Spider" in Cirque du Soleil’s "OVO" performing "Slackwire." Photo by Benoit Fontaine.
The strength of "Ovo" is the distinct choreography. It is more unified and polished than most Cirque shows, so that it's easy to remember who performed what even days later. Choregrapher Deborah Colker is the first woman to direct and write a Cirque production. The group numbers -- when the biodiverse multitude in their signature colors gather in the morning, for example -- are particularly impressive. They do a variation of the macarena, sit, scratch, twist and scurry with absolute grace, disappearing into the wings or reappearing from the many insect holes. Giant flowers blossom and close. Insects pretend to duel and we heard sword clicks. A giant caterpillar dances and it's impossible to tell if it's one performer or several. Everywhere you look, there is wonder and tongue-in-cheek humor!
These 54 performers from 16 countries are at the peak of their talent, and they delight in their rare abilities. They make it looks so easy. I'm not a circus fan, but I have travelled to Randall's Island, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, New Jersey and Las Vegas for Cirque shows. They are their own genre. They make me believe in the human spirit -- and I have a rip roaring good time.