Cirque du Soleil: Kā
MGM Grand – Las Vegas
Amidst all the recent Olympics excitement were a few articles describing the melding of athletics and the arts. Most intriguing was the American chap who one two medals in 1912, one in sculpture and one in shooting.
When the Olympics were in Los Angeles in 1984, I was awash in the variety of international cultural presentations on offer. The most exciting was on a parking lot in little Tokyo where a blue and yellow tent was erected for a French Canadian circus troupe. Promising no animals and a fresh take on the circus, the production became the talk of the town. Tickets were suddenly impossible to get. When all the athletes left town, the tent sprang up a few weeks later on the parking lot next to the Santa Monica Pier, and so began America’s awe with Cirque du Soleil.
Over the years, the productions have grown more ambitious. Extending beyond jaw-dropping gymnastics, various site-specific productions have been launched. LOVE is the stunning blending of the Beatles music with the energy and grace of the Cirque’s motifs.
One of the few Cirque du Soleil productions I managed to miss was Kā. Presented in a comfortable and impressive theatre at the MGM in Vegas, I attended the same night Michael Jackson was celebrating his birthday. But for the ushers hustling to get tubs of popcorn, he somehow managed unobtrusively to enjoy the show with his family.
As with most Cirque shows, the loose plot involves an innocent stranger in a strange land. We the audience see most of the thrills, chills and laughs through the eyes of our everyman-child onstage, in this case a pair of young lovers. Kā opens with pirates kidnapping our hero and heroine, swooping in from the rafters. Soon they are aboard a rocking seaship, with a twisting mast and no sails hoisted. Like a playground seesaw gone astray, the pirates rock the ship back and forth, and soon the ship is pivoting out of control. The sense of seasickness was nearly contagious.
The cast of 80 is comprised of performers from 16 countries. Between feats of strength and balance, small moments of humor act as connective tissue. Much like the Japanese knee plays (“noh”) these interstitial moments allow the audience to catch their breath. For instance, a spry tortoise and starfish delight the hero and heroine with their antics, playing in the now sand-covered stage. Soon, the stage begins to slant toward the audience. The sand (actually Portugese cork) slips toward the audience off the edge into the darkness below, and the heroine and her guardians crawl to the far upper side of the tilting stage. The bad guys return, launching arrows from the aisles of the theatre. Soon the bad guys are chasing the good guys on the severely slanted stage. Pegs pop out from the severely slanted stage, allowing the performers to climb, fall, slide and swoop.
The perspective has totally changed from the horizontal to the vertical, and the sudden realization is disorienting and typically Cirque-like.
Toward the end of the 90 minute production, performers are flying back and forth, bouncing off the vertically-inclined stage. It is reminiscent of the gravity-defying sequences in “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.”
Most of the creative kudos go to Robert Lepage, whose stage direction I first saw at an astounding Italian Peter Gabriel concert (later captured on his Secret World DVD and CD).
It remains difficult to choose among the various astounding Cirque du Soleil productions, but for me the top three are LOVE, Kā and O.