In the new Cirque du Soleil show, Ovo, things start with the egg. First, it's a giant egg that breaks open to bring us an insect world. Soon after that, a beetle hauls an egg on stage, and a battle ensues among the insects for possession of that egg. Between this, the beetle falls in love with a ladybug, is rejected, and finally wins her heart. It's a weak narrative that feels at best like a device threading clumsily through a series of performances. Fortunately, because this is Cirque du Soleil, and the performances are about as far away from clumsy as you could imagine, the story is largely beside the point.
Created and directed by Brazilian dancer/choreographer Deborah Colker (the first woman to create a Cirque production), Ovo delivers a spectacle incorporating Brazilian music, imaginatively rendered costumes, a set of giant flowers and mega-sized spider webs, and acrobats, circus performers, and gravity-defying gymnasts of every type.
In many ways, the insect world is a natural place for Cirque du Soleil to explore. After all, insects are the acrobats of the natural world: while ants can carry many times their own weight, grasshoppers can leap the insect equivalent of large buildings, and spiders can scurry across narrow threads with astonishing balance and speed. In Ovo, the performers are human-sized insects who undertake similar feats.
The show's first highlight is a dragonfly-gymnast who demonstrates mind-boggling balance on an apparatus at the front of the stage. This is followed by a troupe of foot jugglers who, dressed as ants, perform a synchronized act involving slices of kiwi and corn. Then, a butterfly emerging from a chrysalis high above the audience is the delightful prelude to a pair who gives a beautifully choreographed act on the rope. The climax of the first half of the show is offered by a group of trapeze artists who leap with the agility of fleas through the air.
The second half, slowed by some rather tedious comedy, offers a lovely contortion-dance by a group of spiders, and a wire-balancing act that elicits gasps of sheer incredulity from the audience. A synchronized trampoline performance in which the cricket-performers tumble, somersault and leap onto a wall provides a grand end to the stunning gymnastics. Inevitably, the wind-up of the evening's weak story and the final song-and-dance number felt like an anti-climax after so much drama and verve.
With Ovo, Cirque du Soleil celebrates its 25th anniversary. And while the show may not be the most innovative of its work, it is alive and buzzing. When you depart the circus tent, you may leave not only awe-struck by Cirque's performers, but with a new appreciation of the acrobatics of the natural world.
Ovo premiered in Montreal in earlier this year, and is currently touring North America. It plays in San Francisco through January 24, 2010 at AT&T Park. For more information visit Cirque du Soleil's website