Spec·tac·u·lar -[spek-tak-yuh-ler]-impressive, large scale display; dramatically daring or thrilling.
Having blazed the trail for theatrical circuses, consistently pushing the envelope, Cirque du Soleil is back with Zarkana, a compellingly watchable, unexpectedly inventive show even for the leader of the pack. This latest offering, revived from a premiere 2011 season, evidences an unwillingness to rest on the laurels of multiple theme shows.
When the imaginatively white and beige clad cast playacts its way down the aisles before curtain, our audience perks up to engaging interaction. As two organists begin to play, smoke rises from enormous horn assemblages that look like something out of Dr. Seuss. Thespians are lowered up-side-down from the ceiling, appear hanging from the proscenium at precarious angles, and clamor onstage from the audience, each with his or her own preoccupations, like a bunch of wind-up toys with minds of their own. They gambol among trunks, ladders, overturned chairs, cabinets, a piano, stairs…bits and pieces of backstage theatrical paraphernalia. Actual “settings” will be created by one of the most artistic and startling uses of video walls you may ever see.
One marvelous simulation occurs when a clown is shot out of a cannon –there are two main, utterly charming clowns who perform intermittently in one, more about them later. Ejected, far, far over the audience, said clown somersaults in slow motion as if caught in supple winds. Scenic space now reveals stars and planets growing larger the further out he travels. During the back tumble towards earth, all this progressively diminishes in size. Other often surrealistic illusions feature walls of falling petals which become rosebuds opening to clown heads, floating eyeballs, and the most gigantic, realistic, undulating snakes you have ever EVER seen encircling the proscenium arch. Prestidigitation makes it seem as if the cast quadruples in size by infinitely depicting diminishing figures evoking a hall of mirrors.
At top center, a 10’ flower opens to reveal the talented female vocalist, Meetu Chilana, whom we see from the waist- petals provide her skirt. Chilana is answered by this evening’s long-haired ringmaster /sorcerer Zark (Christian Goguen), a mellifluous singer of the first order. Both perform in another of the extraordinarily authentic sounding, made-up languages Cirque manifests as part of its signature package. High bows of fantasy ships move partially in and out from either side of the stage, their decks supporting musicians. Zarkana’s score is unabrasive rock opera.
Highlights of the evening include an accomplished trapeze act costumed in lizard lime green who perform in front of and among spider webs. Four platforms at varying heights hold several levels of swings. The length across which performers whoosh, somersault, and catch is breathtaking. Banquine, a large, muscular group of acrobats, manage to propel each other across the stage right side up, upside down, horizontally and flipped. Women are tossed as if weightless, their limbs in perfect control. Balanced configurations are masterly. Every movement, even while reassembling on terra firma is beautifully choreographed.
Captivating, less flashy features are: A Hand Balancing solo during which the sublimely graceful gymnast slowly moves his sculpted body into, and holds, positions one would imagine physically impossible. The exacting craft silenced our appreciative audience.
Two main clowns are first rate. Using only mime, sound effects, and facial expressions, they periodically commandeer attention with exuberant shenanigans, one vignette involving a game audience volunteer and misbehaving electricity. That they are distractions while mechanisms change becomes irrelevant.
I’ve seen quite a few Cirque du Soleil shows both in tents and custom Las Vegas houses.Stunning video makes Zarkana unique. What makes it work, however, is that tricked up visuals never lose sight of the acts they frame, for which they were invented. Seventy-five international artists are briskly and fluidly directed with an eye to every detail. This is a dazzling experience. And fun.
Cirque du Soleil Zarkana
Written and Directed by Francois Girard
Radio City Music Hall
Through September 2, 2012