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.

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