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Wednesday, 06 July 2011 23:09

Review: Cirque Du Soleil's ZARKANA

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ZARKANA'S High Wire Act ZARKANA'S High Wire Act Photo: Jeremy Daniel

Cirque Du Soleil started in 1984 with just 20 street performers.  Today, the company is a major player in live entertainment with 20+ shows around the world.  It employs 5,000 people, 1,500 of whom are performers.  Their productions are generally stunningly designed with some of the best aerial and specialty acts to be found anywhere.  I’m pleased to say that Zarkana, which recently opened at Radio City Music Hall, more than lives up to that splendor.  It’s when they stick with what they do best, the death-defying feats, that Zarkana is at its best.

Unfortunately Zarkana’s director and creator, François Girard, has attempted to create (in his own words) “an acrobatic rock opera.”  Girard, who directed the films “The Red Violin” and the documentary “Silk,” has coordinated a massive production.  There are a lot of moving parts to this production and he has done an admirable job.  Unfortunately, he also wrote the story which I could completely do without.  Canadian pop star Garou is Zark, a Ring Leader or narrator, who has lost his love, presumably the lead female vocal of Cassiopee.   Unfortunately, his love is not the only thing that gets lost on the behemoth stage of Radio City Music Hall.  There are musical interludes that attempt to add some level of plot line but merely elongate and drag out the show and give it a slow, plodding feel.  They could have cut some of these numbers from the show which didn’t really aid in my understanding (or lack-there-of) of the plot.  

This company of more than 75 are in stunning costumes by Alan Hranitelj.  The scenery by Stéphane Roy is breathtaking and eye-popping.  As with many shows these days, the scenery is part old-fashioned scenic arts (a false proscenium made of snakes, actually carved styrofoam) and part high-tech.   It has an LED backdrop and border that looks like a screen-saver with floating eyeballs, planets, flowers and, of course, more snakes.  

The real stars of this show though, are the talent on stage.  They include jugglers, a nerve-wracking team that balances on ladders, the magnificent Ray Navas Velez and Rudy Navas Velez on the wheel of death, sort of two hamster wheels spinning around while these two men ride the outside and inside of the wheels.  These two also double up on high-wire duty.  These guys could get seriously hurt.  

There is an ingenious act at the top of act two (which picks up significantly) where a petite Erika Chen takes center stage.  A podium of sorts rises up out of the stage as a large screen descends overhead.  There is a camera looking down on the podium, its signal being displayed on the large screen.  The podium is lit from inside.  Chen scatters blue sand across the illuminated surface and proceeds to create scene after wispy scene using just her fingers and the sand, just transfixing.  

Anatoly Zalevskiy does a one-man hand balancing act that displays poise, strength and beauty. A group of four men throw flags that are designed to rise in the air, hang there, and then come back down, spinning as they do.  One sour note from this production, the two clowns.  Most of their routines were humorless with only one routine involving an audience member being truly funny.  

Cirque Du Soleil’s Zarkana runs through October 8, 2011.  Click here to get tickets to Zarkana.

Last modified on Wednesday, 06 July 2011 23:29