“Ovo!” Shut up, damn clown. I’ve never been quite sure who finds the clowns in Cirque du Soleil entertaining, because neither I, nor anyone I have ever seen a show with, have. Alas, the audience laughs…inexplicably. These cartoonish beings explicating gibberish always seem to strip the rest of the show of its sophistication. Yes, all the performers are dressed as bugs like the cast of a Pixar movie, but the creativity of design and intricacy of the performers’ physical movement elevates their work to a mysterious and awe-inspiring art form. The clowns, not so much. If I wanted to deal with a sassy ladybug, I would talk to the one that lives between the window and the screen in my bedroom that insists on getting stuck in the blinds while I’m trying to nap.
Fortunately for “Ovo,” the mind-numbing performances of the clowns make up a smaller percentage of the overall spectacle than other Cirque shows (I’m talking to you, “Kooza”). The circus offered the company’s usual tasty palette of tricks: trapeze artists, tumblers, contortionists, and aerial performers to name a few. The theme of each act seemed to fuse creatively with the insect represented: aerial artists wrapping themselves in long strands of fabric as moths; a tubular, fuzzy mass twists around itself as a caterpillar; grasshoppers for hopping trampoline tumblers. Having seen a number of Cirque du Soleil shows, the flow becomes somewhat formulaic, but always entertaining. People laugh and applaud the smaller, more nuanced acts featuring young children with quirky talents (in this show spinning enlarged kiwis with their feet), and a vibe of excitement radiates through the audience as the trapeze and the safety netting—always the precursor to something enthrallingly dangerous—descend upon the stage.
Being on just this side of arachnophobia, I was shocked to find that my favorite performers were the contortionists channeling the sultry, murderous appeal of the black widow spider. Its act-two web is one of a few set pieces that precariously extended over the heads of the audience, as if drawing you into the venomous lair. The merely four limbed performer is one of the most abstract of the show, but still manages to capture the angular and elongated movement of the overly dexterous beast. The image of her crawling down the rock-wall-esque backdrop upside down still holds my mind prey. It’s one of those moments, characteristic of Cirque, when you think to yourself, “They have to be wearing a harness”…but they’re not.
Aside from the clowns, the only real issue with the show was the under utilization of the egg. After an exaggerated parade into the theater through the audience, it seemed at the very least to be anti-climatic to title the show after a prop that doesn’t advance the discernable plot. It served as somewhat of a power staff amongst the clowns, but its individual power did not extend far beyond that and was underwhelming. I assume I’m not alone in wanting to see it break or hatch or incubate into a mutant bug shedding exoskeleton clones capable of some superhuman feat. The show started with a massive inflated egg full of potential and ended with a sad prop abandoned onstage by the exuberant cast.
For Cirque, the brilliant blue ocean strategy of transplanting a delicate European gem into the jaded American entertainment market has certainly been a profitable enterprise, as evidenced by the scores of productions that populate the globe, nation, and Las Vegas Strip. One of the reigning assets of the Cirque du Soleil franchise is the fascinating world into which you are invited. Going to an event in the United Center parking lot raises some eyebrows, but when you see the Big Top, minds change. Because of the all-encompassing atmosphere and admittedly the foreign intrigue, the wild fantasy seems so tangible and engaging. The carefully planned aesthetic and articulated language round out the details that transport you into this new world (really, “Tapis Rogue” sounds so much sexier than “V.I.P.”). It is a luring adventure that has put a much fresher spin on the idea of a circus than elephants and lion tamers.
Suggested wine pairing: a zesty Sauvignon Blanc, preferably in a carafe.