|It’s wet, it’s windy – and the red carpet walk may be more like wading through a soggy puddle – but it’s going to take a lot more than some apparent opposition from Mother Nature to dampen the spirits of the Sydneysiders who have rolled up in droves tonight for the opening of Cirque du Soleil‘s latest sparkling spectacular, Ovo.Read more of my review of Ovo on Australian StageIt’s wet, it’s windy – and the red carpet walk may be more like wading through a soggy puddle – but it’s going to take a lot more than some apparent opposition from Mother Nature to dampen the spirits of the Sydneysiders who have rolled up in droves tonight for the opening of Cirque du Soleil‘s latest sparkling spectacular, Ovo.
Perhaps it’s the awe of huddling together en masse under a big top that feels like a giant’s cubbyhouse, waiting to enter another world that creates the expectant hush. We’ve been promised a David Attenborough-esque peek into the life of insects and the excitement in the air is as palpable as the heavy tang of popcorn.
With countless impressive productions that have toured the world in the 30-odd years since Cirque du Soleil was founded, this Montreal-based troupe of acrobats, contortionists, clowns, jugglers and gymnasts have an extraordinary amount of hype to live up to, so it’s probably not surprising that Ovo begins more with a scuttle than a bang.
A collective of crickets picks its way past the crowd with admirable adroitness, considering the large pair of hind hoppers they are sporting. They are joined by a host of colourful creepy crawlies, one of which, a mozzie-like Foreigner (Barthelemy Glumineau), is lugging a large egg (or “ovo” in Portuguese) on his back towards the stage. There is a brief altercation and the egg is snatched, before the insects are compelled by a psychedelic-looking beetle called Flipo (Simon Bradbury) to begin what looks a bit like an ’80s Jazzercise session. At first we are more perplexed than amazed by this panto-style acid flashback of jiggling, gyrating forms in technicoloured lycra – what’s with all this… dancing?
But thankfully after awkward beginnings a small army of red ants arrive to get the oohing and ahhing underway. Together these six flame-coloured Chinese jugglers display superhuman dexterity as they lie on their backs flipping giant slices of kiwifruit in a fantastic display of fancy footwork.
Next we are treated to an avant-garde interlude as an aerial artist wiggles up and down a rope inside a silk cocoon. It’s arty but not exactly awe-inspiring. But this is the way the show is set to play out. There are moments of stunning spectacle followed by pretty bits of padding. Perhaps it’s expecting too much for the ants to keep at it for the entire duration?
That said, there are still plenty of show-stopping peaks in this production that’s assembled 54 brilliantly talented performers from 16 countries. A Ukrainian butterfly duo (Svitlana Kashevarova and Dmytro Orel) performs a breathtaking aerial ballet suspended from a swinging rope; a squadron of scarabs fly through the air with the greatest of ease on a trapeze; contortionist spiders twist into impossible shapes; a family of iridescent orange fleas support each other’s weight to reach impossible heights; the chorus of crickets returns to get the place pumping with a trampoline-enhanced series of somersaults that are outstanding in their athleticism; a firefly (Tony Frebourg) who’s a dynamo with a set of diabolos creates a juggling display that inspires rapturous applause; and a slackwire spiderman (Julaiti Ailati) proves that arachnids can indeed unicycle, all without leaving the comfort of their web.
In between, there is whimsical clowning from the three main characters as ringmaster Flipo distracts the hapless Foreigner from retrieving his egg by helping him woo the cute and curvaceous Ladybug (Michelle Matlock). There are breathtakingly beautiful flowers that open and astound with their size and lifelike fragility. And there are undeniably imaginative costumes (Liz Vandal) and makeup (Julie Begin) that propel the feats of physical prowess into an otherworldly realm. So it’s not too hard to forgive the underwhelming dance routines that fill the gaps between the moments of magic.
Cirque du Soleil presents
Dates: Sydney, Setpember 13 to November 25, 2012
This review first appeared on Australian Stage