I owe much of this blog post to my fiance, Chris. We saw Cirque du Soleil’s OVO in Manchester last night and at intermission Chris turned to me and said, “This show is about life.” Chris got it in one. OVO teems with life. There are trees, twigs, leaves, flowers, dirt, spiderwebs, mushrooms, and plant cells blown to gigantic portions. There are rivalries, celebrations, fear, and love stories. And lest I forget, there are some circus performers too. Each one is dressed as a bug who can creep, crawl, romp, or fly through their forest world.
The Cirque du Soleil artists are the best circus performers in North America, maybe the world. Their reputation becomes obvious from the first minute of the show, when six performers dressed as ants run onto the stage and begin juggling giant kiwis. They giggle, wiggle, and smile as they pass the kiwis back and forth to one another. The whole crowd gasps as one when they begin to juggle each other instead of the kiwis. The wonder of OVO only increases from there.
Chris said the show reminded him of being little and playing outside. OVO is just that kind of simple celebration – of play, of the easily amused, of careful joys from little things. The insect-actors come to represent a world we think we know but which can still surprise us. Trap doors emerge suddenly from the stage, although they have been in plain sight since the beginning of the show. A giant centipede crawling around the stage turns out to be one talented samba dancer manipulating a slinky-like puppet. A dragonfly contortionist climbs on a green structure that first appears simple and round but turns out to be spiraled, tunneled, and constantly rotating. No matter where you look, there is something new to see.
The performers make the effects appear effortless, as if they were playing with one another. Of course it’s not play but rather the product of years of training and months of choreography. For the performers, this is work and often life-threatening work at that. They have chosen to put themselves at risk in order to induce wonder in us. OVO is a world of make-believe, very carefully constructed.
Cirque du Soleil is known for its attention to aethestic detail, and OVO is no exception. The team behind OVO studied real insects in order to create costumes that were segmented like a beetle’s thorax or shimmered like a butterfly’s wing. The choreography is so perfectly timed that performers can break in the middle of a dangerous stunt to wink at an audience member or playfully shake the foam antennae on their heads. The music is live so that it can respond to changes in the performers’ routines, and of course even the musicians are impeccably dressed in costume. In the case of OVO, the musicians are pillbugs.
It is the little things that make a show like OVO so memorable. Yes, the athleticism of the performers is essential and astounding. But the performers’ movements are also otherworldly and disorienting. We see them in motions that ought to be impossible for humans to do. If their raw physical talent makes OVO surreal, it is the little details of the show that make it convincing. Perhaps in the sense, OVO builds another metaphor for our lives: that joy can be found in ordinary things, and that even the tiniest of details can build an entire world. If nothing else, seeing OVO means that I will never see an ant in quite the same way again.
I’m grateful to them for the opportunity to see the show! If you want to see for yourself, OVO is showing at the Verizon Arena in Manchester from August 26-28. Show times and tickets are here.