The world’s greatest traveling troupei is well overdue for a review on these pages. Having seen my first Cirque du Soleil show close to 15 years ago when their occurrences in Alberta were still rare, I recently took in their first touring ice show at Rogers Placeii in Edmonton : “Crystal.”
Though I’d previously seen five Cirque shows across North America, some in smaller tent venues (Curio most recently) and some in larger fixed venues (O most recently),iii I’d never been seated so close that I could fully appreciate the costuming,iv make-up, and nuanced facial expressions of the artists, which in a live performance like this is kind of a big deal! So on a lovely double date and sitting in just the second row, I finally had an opportunity to pick up these little details at Crystal. So how did the show, and by extension the Canadian-based production company, stand up under closer scrutiny ?
Brilliantly, bien sur. What else ? If you’ve never been to a Cirque du Soleil performance, and incredibly even if you have, you can’t help but marvel at the creativity of the storyline, the sophistication of the set design, the dazzling visual effects, the daring costumes, the militarily precision of the choreography, and the lighthearted nature of acrobatic acts executing with such death-defying panache.v Regardless of where you’re sitting, you’re engaged, enthralled, enraptured, and utterly in love with the magic of it all. You’re transported into another world where excellence is expected and fun fuels everything and anything.
If you’re anything like me, you’ll also relish every show for an opportunity to guess what skill sets each of the performers developed before being scooped up by the Cirque. While most are obviously former Olympian-level gymnasts and acrobats, others are less easy to pin down, or at least they were in an eclectic and avant-garde performance such as this. “Crystal,” which follows the story of a high-school-aged
ginger girl who’s misunderstood by the world because her drive is towards creativity and contrariness rather than conformity and mediocrity, features a host of figure skaters and gymnasts first and foremost, but the cast of four skate-jumpers who did backflips, front flips, twists and turns off of ramps ranging from 4′ to 14′ were harder to pin down. My best guess ? Skatepark and inline vert rollerbladers, some of whom had picked up puck-handling skills along the way. Needless to say, such spectacular routines flow from the people available not towards creative intent, as great organically grown businesses do. When you’re at this level of experimentation, there’s really no other way to go.
Less experimental and more sentimental was the “Marx brothers”-style comedic relief character. The “Clown” as it were. He’s found in every Cirque show and always with his own 10-minute spotlight routine in addition to cameo appearances in about half of the remaining two hours of content, but without sitting up close and with no jumbotron to enhance his myriad facial expressions,vi you’ll never fully fall under his spell from the rafters. Up close, however, oh, quelle pureté, quelle simplicité, quelle joie, et magie. Very much the Costello,vii that a character like the Clown lives on through this medium of live performance is proof positive that there’s goodness and beauty in this world. Even if future generations don’t have the grandest and most spectacular architecture to remember our digital era by, at least they’ll know that we found a place for the Clown in our lives and that we didn’t drop the baton. If that kind of reminder doesn’t make the Cirque du Soleil worth your time, what does ?
Vive le clown! Vive le Cirque!
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- Annual revenue across the Cirque’s 20-odd shows is a billion USD give or take. ↩
- Looking like a giant “yud” though it does, the location of the new arena is really doing wonders for the city’s previously dormant downtown scene. Even with the mercury hitting -20°C, the bars and restaurants were packed and overflowing after 6`000 people streamed out of Rogers Place at 10pm.
In terms of cultural creativity and aesthetic opportunities, this quiet little Prairie town is definitely on the ascent, even if Canada is still, taken as a whole, at the bottom of the developed world in terms of art, architecture, and quality of public spaces. But when you’re in last place, there’s plenty of room for improvement and the paths towards it couldn’t be better paved. ↩
- Indeed, while I called the company “the world’s greatest traveling troupe” in the opening line, there are in fact shows they run that are geographically fixed. Sue me. ↩
- Oh, the costuming! As I’m now starting to appreciate the textile arts, I’ll just leave this little snippet from the Cirque website here for posterity and completeness :
Costume creation at Cirque du Soleil
- Costumes and their props needed for the various shows are hand-created in Montreal, in the production workshops of the International Headquarters. The Cirque du Soleil workshop is the only one of its kind in North America.
- Approximately 300 artisans of every description (including master shoemakers, milliners, textile experts, sewers, lace makers, carpenters, etc.) are employed full-time making the Cirque du Soleil props and costumes.
- 16,000 or so items (hats, shoes, dresses, bodysuits, etc.) are created for Cirque du Soleil’s shows every year.
- It takes close to 50 kilometers of fabric just to make the shows’ costumes.
- 80% of the fabric required for the costume creation is originally white, before being dyed in the Cirque du Soleil workshop by the textile design team.
- Shoes are hand- and custom-made for all artists by the artisans of the Shoe Workshop. Approximately 1,200 pairs of shoes are produced by the workshop every year.
I dunno about you but 300 highly skilled artisans physically manufacturing anything is Canada impresses the shit out of me. But that this fact is even worth a footnote is probably how you know it’s 2019 and not 1919. ↩
- Not that Cirque performers always defy death. Three performers have died since the company’s inception in 1984, two from falls while performing, one from an injury sustained during rehearsal. ↩
- K. Hart does the jumbotron thing exceptionally well, making his midget ass face accessible regardless of audience size and seating location, but that’s a totally different ball game. Hart is a one-man-show and therefore the exclusive centre-of-attention, but you could watch a single Cirque show three or four times and still notice new things every time. ↩
- Please lord tell me you’re familiar with “Who’s on first“. ↩