Cirque du Soleil in Las Vegas

Okay, so this has nothing to do with the topics I usually blog about, but I happen to be here in Las Vegas for the New Media Expo this week. I took advantage of the trip and brought my wife along with the enticement of seeing two Cirque du Soliel shows. Even if you’re not a Cirque fan, this is for you.

There are actually six very different Cirque du Soleil shows Las Vegas, and I’d guess the most-popular one is ‘O‘, although ‘Love‘ may have taken over that honor. We saw ‘Love’ tonight. It’s essentially a typical Cirque du Soleil show based on the music of the Beatles in a huge theatre. This isn’t your typical circus-in-a-tent show like the traveling Cirque du Soleil. Shows like these can’t ever tour — the theatres are essentially built uniquely for them. Perhaps the best part of ‘Love’ is that they’ve absolutely perfected the techniques of flying people around a large theatre at high speeds on wires, trapeze and bungee. It’s not just dramatic, it’s also incredibly graceful. Overall, the show is a bit confusing, and I think it’s fair to say that perhaps it emphasizes the psychedelic aspects of the Beatles’ lives and music. The show is extremely trippy, and as my wife agreed, I wouldn’t be surprised if lots of people come stoned. There’s so much going on at once, it can be difficult to know what to watch.

If I’d only seen ‘Love’ while here in Las Vegas, I wouldn’t be writing this post. The reason I’m blogging is the Cirque du Soleil show we saw last night: ‘‘. I’d never heard of it before. I bought the tickets only because I couldn’t get them for ‘O’. But I’ve got to say, ‘KÀ’ is one of the most amazing theatrical events I’ve ever seen. (Note: My wife and I are both former drama majors.) The starting point for ‘KÀ’s greatness can be summarized in one word: hydraulics. It’s in a massive theatre, seating maybe 4,000 people. The proscenium is perhaps 80-100 feet high. But the major element of the set is a fully articulated platform that’s something like 40×60 feet. Maybe even larger. The platform starts out at floor level, but imagine your flatscreen TV with one of those VESA mounts on the rear with an arm that allows it to be turned and twisted in three dimensions. Then imagine it flipping vertical (or even past vertical), loaded with a cast of dancer/acrobats. Effortlessly and silently, it becomes the size of a six-story building. Two of the most amazing scenes are performed in this vertical position. This photo of one of those scenes doesn’t really do it justice. The wall is, in fact, vertical and the performers are not wired. I won’t even try to describe some of the uses of this platform. And don’t think it’s gimmicky — it’s not. The set and staging would be way over-the-top in other contexts, but it all works seamlessly here. The video trailer also undersells the show.

Don’t get me wrong. This isn’t just about a set design. Everything about this show is superb, cast included. Lighting, sound, music, choreography (martial arts including Capoeira) — all superb. It’s been running for a year, two shows/day five days/week, which means over two million people have seen it. But I think it’s Cirque du Soleil’s sleeper show here. If you’re going to Las Vegas and can afford the tickets, this is the show I’d recommend.

Update: Here’s a trailer on YouTube that shows a bit more. Think of “martial arts meets steampunk.” Wikipedia says the platform is 25×50 feet and weighs 50 tons. Writing in the New York Times, Steve Friess called it “Metrolpolis meets Blade Runner” and says the theatre cost $135 million to construct and holds 1,950 seats.