February 2008

Cirque du Soleil

February 28, 2008 07:28

Once upon a time, before I even dreamed of picking up the violin, I was introduced to Cirque du Soleil music, opening my ears to a musical world I hadn’t dreamed existed. Classical music meets World meets New Age, replete with drums, violins and French-sounding accordions. I was entranced, instantly smitten. Upon glimpsing my first live Cirque performance a year later, a peerless extravaganza of music, acrobats, costumes and lighting, I knew it was for life.

My son and I recently attended Kooza, Cirque du Soleil’s latest show, beneath the grand chapiteau, Cirque’s trademark blue and yellow auditorium-sized tent. “Grand” well describes everything. I’ll warn you, Cirque is not cheap. I was still reeling over the price I’d paid for two tickets as we made our way to the entrance. Parking had been a nuisance, we’d gotten lost trying to find the location, basically the whole day had been fraught with aggravation, but the minute the show started, all of that was flung into irrelevancy. Because there on the arena stage in front of us exploded a magically-lit landscape of sight and sound, a child’s world of fantasy and adventure, a world that even a jaded crabby adult could enter.

A trio of contortionists started the acts, young women all limbs and sinew and elasticity, wearing glittery, vibrant-hued costumes that clung like a second skin. It was like watching art spring off a canvas and come to fluid, undulating life right there on the stage in front of you. Perhaps it is my own childhood acrobatics background and obsession that made it so supremely satisfying to watch them extend their split legs 180 degrees and beyond, beyond, stopping only when they encountered ground, and the other leg followed suit and you realized they still had eye contact with the audience, their chins on the floor, beatific smiles across their faces, only now their feet were on either side of their heads and wait, were bodies supposed to be able to do that? My son said to me in a hushed, reverent voice, “This is exactly what I’d been hoping for.”

All the acts are varied and fascinating, each performer at the pinnacle of his/her respective craft. Another highlight for my son and I was the “wheel of death” performance—think two enormous, human sized hamster wheels, attached by metal bars and spinning at rapid velocity. When one of the performers caught the outside of the wheel with one hand and was instantly flung up through the air, high above the stage, I screamed like a little kid. I wasn’t the only one. Watching these two performers being hurled about, sometimes inside the cage, sometimes out, knowing that if they tripped or lost their grip, it wasn’t going to be pretty, I was reminded of the original intention of live theatre: for the Greeks to experience the pathos of life vicariously. And sure enough, watching that performance tore something out of me, a feeling both enormously satisfying and draining, much like I feel after a really good violin or piano concerto performance. The Kooza program notes should have contained a warning: Do not attempt to operate heavy machinery immediately following a Cirque du Soleil performance.

I could write a blog entirely devoted to the music of Cirque du Soleil, because composers like Benoît Jutras, René Dupéré and Violaine Corradi have written some of my favorite music outside the classical realm. The “jazz band” slant of Kooza seemed relatively pedestrian for Cirque, but perhaps that is because I prefer world music or violins, which the shows often feature. It was a small detractor from an otherwise larger than life experience and a wholly satisfying show. If you’ve never had the opportunity to disappear into a Cirque du Soleil performance, run right out and buy a ticket. Or if the bank account can’t bear the weight, try a CD. Almost all of are worthy (particularly if you can get a copy from your public library), but here are my “don’t miss” favorites:

Quidam
“O”
Alegria
Varekai
Ka

Anyone else out there a Cirque du Soleil fan?

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