OVO, the new Cirque du Soleil show under the big top next to the Santa Monica Pier, explores the fanciful world of rainforest insects.
Since I first met Cirque du Soleil more than 20 years ago, we’ve both grown up a lot. I won’t comment on which of us has aged better, but I will say I think we have both become wiser and easier to get along with.
I was pretty sure that OVO, the new Cirque du Soleil show that opened Friday January 20 in Santa Monica, would be equal or better than the other shows I’ve watched on that very same spot over the years. Their highest-in-the-industry production values and ability to attract the best talent in the world, pretty much guarantee a high quality show. OVO did not disappoint.
What I was less sure about, however, was whether Cirque would still be relevant to me in my older, wiser stage of life. In the last few years, I have become a big fan of Burning Man, Lucent Dossier, Cirque Berzerk, Abney Park, steampunkers and some of the more quirky, edgy and darker entertainment options out there. I like the darker, grown-up feeling these other troupes offer. The skills they bring to the stage are heart opening and awe inspiring in a way that captures that invisible, there’s-something-wrong-here-but-I-don’t-know-what-it-is pre-apocalyptic kind of angst.
I have to admit, I wondered what could possibly be relevant for me about a Cirque du Soleil production based on the life of insects in the Brazilian rain forest that discover an “ovo” (Portuguese for egg). As one adorably cute fan remarked after watching the show, “It was like watching bugs on acid.”
Does that make it relevant? Well, as it turns out, anthropomorphized bugs apparently have egos, they steal, they argue with one another, they flirt and they fall in love. More importantly, they can do stunts that mere humans would find impossible. Despite my skepticism, as I walked into the show, in the end, I had only one question: “How do they do that?”
As it turned out, the chip on my shoulder was knocked off quickly by the amazing performances. Whatever one might think of the staging, one certainly can’t complain about the excellent quality of the performers. They always deliver something unexpected and unbelievable. Whether it was the contortionist bending in impossible directions or the juggler who kept more objects in the air than the laws of physics allow.
The highlight of the evening was the finale, where more than a dozen performers openly thumbed their noses at gravity, flying up as easily as they fell down, bouncing off trampolines and crawling upside down on walls. The sight left my stomach giddy and put a smile on my face until the house lights came up.
A particularly astounding act was near the top of the show; a troupe of young ladies, “Antsy Ants,” came on stage with what looked like large pieces of kiwi fruit, and proceeded to balance, spin and juggle the fruit, and each other, with their feet! It was a true “how-the-heck-do-they-do-that?” moment. And the contortionists always freak me out. I’m pretty sure people can’t really bend that way but I’ve yet to figure out how they perform the optical magic that makes it look like they can.
My first brush with Cirque came in 1990 when they first pitched their “Grand Chapiteau” in the parking lot on the north side of the Santa Monica pier. Everything, from the amazing “Big Top” that housed the show, to the costumes, the music and the themed performance was a revelation; I had never seen anything remotely like it. These French Canadians really revved up my imagination and ideas about what live entertainment could be.
Since then, Cirque du Soleil has had a huge influence on live circus, vaudeville and other types of ensemble entertainment. When I first saw Lucent Dossier perform five years ago, my first thought was that it was low-rent Cirque du Soleil. I have to believe Cirque and its performers heavily influenced them — but I wouldn’t be surprised if Cirque du Soleil started the same way.
If there is a criticism of Cirque du Soleil it might be that the staging is beginning to seem rather formulaic. The themes are different, but they seem to proceed in the same fashion. But then, that’s like saying that Beethoven’s symphonies were derivative because he used the sonata form — not very convincing criticism.
When you go to OVO, be sure to check out the gift shops and the amazing clothes, masks and accessories for sale. They are expensive (surprise, surprise) but the creativity is wonderful and inspiring. At the very least, it will give you some great ideas for your next masquerade party.
The bottom line for me is simple: Go see OVO. The creators of this little bug’s paradise have laid a very fertile egg for the audience, creating a world buzzing with colors and sounds and some of the most mind-bending performances you can find anywhere.
For information on OVO performance dates/times, and to purchase tickets, please visit: http://www.cirquedusoleil.com/en/shows/ovo/default.aspx
Copyright © Rick Ruiz/2012 Singular Communications, LLC.