TheVine goes to the Circus
By Paul Verhoeven and Luke Ryan
PAUL: Part of what makes a circus show so damnably magical is a hard thing to pin down. Unless, of course, you’re Cirque du Soleil. If circus underwent a radical, necessary and fundamental evolution, then Cirque were the first ones to step out of the ocean onto land. They grew legs, stepped onto the beach, then grew other, previously inconceivable limbs to aid in their particularly brazen brand of performance. This might be why it’s so wonderful to see a show like oVo. The show is brimming with the ostentatious flair that makes Cirque du Soleil shows so overstimulating to watch - armies of colorful, tightly choreographed, gloriously taut costumed maniacs clowning and careening with every fibre of their beings. But oVo is also, more than any other Cirque show I’ve ever seen, a trip back to the realm of basics. It’s like dissecting a really sexy martian, only to find an anatomically perfect human skeleton within; behind the aesthetics and clowning, there are all the classic circus staples done well: trapeze, tightrope, acrobatics, clowning, all executed with a deftness that makes the Flying Graysons look like...well, Luke on a trampoline. No offence, dude.
LUKE: The lazy, anti-corporatist, Wayne Jarvis part of me feels like it should instinctually dislike Cirque du Soleil. The endeavour is so vast these days, the shows so clinically put together. There are 19 separate Cirque du Soleil troupes operating throughout the world right now (including five in Las Vegas alone), and their annual turnover is somewhere in the region of $800 million. They are the circus equivalent of a Celine Dion concert; in essence, they have corporatised whimsy. At times, while watching this lycra-clad cast of impossibly strong and flexible superhumans go through the grueling motions of what is soon to be an 8-show a week run, I contemplate the fact that I wouldn’t be all that surprised to find out the entire Cirque du Soleil phenomenon was some kind of evil empire, their cast corralled into performing day-after-day using the playbook of the North Korean sporting regime.
And yet: they do it so well. So fantastically and adjective-defyingly well. I walk in, my face set with cynicism and I leave two hours later, giddy and overwhelmed. Almost teary with amazement. It’s an identical routine every time. I’m pretty sure I was exactly the same when my parents took me to see Saltimbanco on its first Australian tour, all the way back in 1999. At the tender age of 14, I had already decided I knew exactly what magic was, and that was what I could find in the gargantuan fantasy trilogies that I consumed like hors d’oeuvres. Because I had so much to do on the weekends. As they showed me back then, and again last Thursday, there are certain limits to my imagination.
PAUL: Full disclosure: I just got back from an insane, all expenses paid trip to Las Vegas, during which I saw two Cirque du Soleil shows: Ka, a brutal martial arts masterpiece which had people literally and involuntarily leaping out of their seats with astonishment, and Love, a tribute to The Beatles. Note: if the cranky, portly old guy next to you at a show enters grumbling and moaning about his hernia (not a joke) and leaves with tears streaming down his big, stupid, formerly cruel face, you’ve done something right. I also saw Saltimbanco years and years ago with my family, so I entered oVo assuming that, like someone becoming increasingly addicted to painkillers, I’d be deadened to the wonder. I strutted in with an unfair cockiness, and I wandered out, as I always do after a Cirque du Soleil experience, in a kind of sluggish, joy-induced stupor. Also, I don’t think Luke will mind if I point out that we left wanting to join the circus. No other performance medium makes me, without fail, yearn achingly to join its ranks. Although, to be fair, I do sometimes feel that way about breakdancers.
LUKE: And lest we forget, last time you did the worm, you managed to kick a child.
PAUL: I walked into oVo wanting to have something to heckle. When a jaunty insectoid emerged bearing a Yoho diabolo, my inner critic flared up like the cynical jerk he is. My inner critic, however, was burned away almost immediately by possibly the greatest display of hand eye coordination I’ve ever witnessed on stage. The guy was a savant. And then, just when I was ready to claim he probably had no other skills, he did a stunning backflip. What. A. Bastard.
LUKE: For like a year a half when I was 9, I played the diabolo. I even became sort of good at it, in the way that a slightly overweight, flat-footed, asthmatic 9-year-old nerds with glasses can become good at something. To this day, I can remember how most of the moves go, can even replicate them in the air.
But this diabolo player. I mean, my God. At one point, I leaned over to Paul and said, “I can do some of these moves. Try and pick which ones.” They didn’t include the moment that he did the splits while simultaneously juggling three diabolos in a high-speed circle the width of a hubcap.
That was the fifth act and it wasn’t even the first time that I’d seen a performer do something that I didn’t realise was physically possible. That particular award went to the 6 “Ants” that performed a foot-juggling routine 15 minutes in that looked, without a hint of hyperbole, computer-generated. A guy in the second half used a slackwire (i.e. a tightrope without the tightness) to balance first on his head, before doing a handstand on a step-ladder propped at a 45 degree angle to the wire and to finish, remaining upside down, he peddled a tiny unicycle with his goddamn hands.
I can’t help but watch these veritable gods at work and wish with all my heart that I could muster even an ounce of the grace and poise they bring to every, single movement they make. How at ease they look, even when the furiously blinking eyes belie the intensity of focus and control that is required to achieve these borderline miracles.
But then I think about how much you’d have to sacrifice, the inhuman discipline you’d need, and I realise that perhaps it is OK to leave such feats to these insectoid wonders.
Although, seriously, if you have heard anything vis-a-vis the North Korea hypothesis, do get in contact.
PAUL: One final note from yours truly: these people could be heroes.
...Not like that. Although, Bowie is always good for what ails you. No, I mean actual heroes. I made a reference to the Flying Graysons earlier. Dick Grayson was the first Robin; Bruce Wayne was at the circus watching a family of trapeze artists performing, when tragedy struck, sending mother and father to their deaths, leaving Dick Grayson orphaned. Bruce, seeing himself in the boy, took the young acrobat in. And as an obsessive fan of Batman (800 trades down as of last week), I constantly think...Well, why can’t I do that? The answer, of course, is butter and potatoes, which I eat in heroic quantities. But whenever I see Cirque du Soleil, and whenever I see someone doing things with their bodies that shouldn’t be even vaguely possible, I – and don’t judge me too harshly here – but I think, Yes. Batman could happen. Robin could happen. In oVo, I saw strength, balance, speed and reflexes that come from years of non-stop training, true, but isn’t that what Batman does? In Ka, I saw performers running at lightning speed along a vertical precipice along nothing but the barest of spokes. These people can...STOP LOOKING AT ME LIKE THAT. BATMAN COULD TOTALLY HAPPEN. OH GOD I NEED THIS TO BE POSSIBLE SO, SO BADLY.
Seriously. Like Luke said, the stuff these guys are capable of is awe-inspiring. Also, one more thing: we happen to have an unbelievably good local act, Circuz Oz, who’ve been doing a comparably revolutionary Circus endeavour for many years now, and they’re worth checking out if you’re up for being inspired by immense homegrown talent. Either way, circus is awesome and Batman is totally real and you’re not the boss of me, dammit.
LUKE: Five oVos for me too!
I am also henceforth referring to all eggs as oVos. Bacon and oVos for breakfast. It just sounds so right.