Thursday, June 30, 2011

Cirque du Soleil's OVO Creeps and Crawls Into Town

Cirque du Soleil is back in Chicago under the Grand Chapiteau at the United Center with OVO, and this year's production has a very different feel from previous shows. Cirque for me has always been about jaw-dropping, death-defying acrobatic feats, where I sat at the edge of my seat with ratcheted nerves wondering if I were about to witness some sort of tragic circus mishap. I found myself rapt again last night, but this time I was more in awe of the costumes and music than the feats themselves.

Don't get me wrong. OVO has plenty of truly amazing moments and incredibly talented performers. But the emphasis was much heavier on the visual, and there was more of a silly storyline going on here than I've seen before. There was actually an entire act with just the 3 main bug characters that was entirely comedic, which was very surprising given what I've come to expect from Cirque. The bugs are funny - they use expressive chirps, twitters and sounds that serve as their dialogue - but it seems a little out of place in a Cirque production.

The costumes were stunning, and the salsa-like music was almost enough to make me get up and dance. The mood was light and fun, and the costumes and music created an upbeat, festive atmosphere. The performers moved with bug-like mannerisms which made them seem even less human and more other-wordly, and the overall effect was enthralling. The jerky head movements and reptilian tongue flicks of the grasshoppers and the lithe, precise movements of the three feminine spiders really added to the "buggy" character of the show.

The finale was an extended act, with funkified grasshoppers using trampolines to jump vertically onto what was essentially an enormous climbing wall. The performers looked like they were actually defying gravity, and I kept thinking that Broadway's Spiderman has NOTHING on these guys. They bounced up from the trampolines and landed frozen still in poses on the wall. They'd bounce up backwards, and I felt like I was watching a video in reverse of someone jumping OFF the wall. I could have easily watched an entire two hours of this act. By far the best of the show.

The kids that I saw or spoke to were all in agreement that it was a great show. Toward the end, an 8 year old girl sitting next to us asked her dad "Is it over?" When he said "No," she answered "Good!" And kids as young as 3 were having a great time. There was just one short scene in particular near the beginning that could be scary for some kids. It included two menacing, stilt-walking, praying-mantis-like characters, and I know this would have terrified my 3 year old daughter. But overall, I feel like the bright colors, upbeat Brazilian style music, and comic relief should appeal to most kids in the 4 and up range.

So while this production may be lighter on death-defying feats, it makes up for it in other ways with its visual splendor and upbeat fun vibe.

As for finding out what the big OVO egg is - we don't. Maybe you'll mind, maybe you won't. My husband says "It doesn't matter." Meanwhile, I feel unfulfilled for not finding out if my guesses were right. Coincidentally, we just took a book out from the library this week called "Hunwick's Egg." It's about a bandicoot who finds an egg, befriends it and cares for it, and then waits and waits and waits for it to hatch. It never does. But at least we find out why - it's not an egg, it's a rock. In OVO, the egg never hatches and we simply don't know why. So if you need closure, you'll have to make it up yourself.

Cirque du Soleil's OVO
Playing June 29 - August 21
United Center - Grand Chapiteau
1901 W. Madison, Chicago
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