|Title : Pickled Funeral Picture credit : Alan Hranitelj ©2011 Cirque du Soleil Costume credit : OSA Images Costumes|
By Lauren Yarger
They’re back on track. Cirque du Soleil opened its newest creation, Zarkana, last night at Radio City Music Hall and it’s a return to the traditional spectacle of color, lights, movement and song that has produced so many vivid and exciting productions playing across the country and worldwide. (The last production New Yorkers saw was the ill-fated Banana Shpeel, a vaudeville-style deviation that didn’t work).
Under the skillful creative leadership of Francois Girard, an opera and film director (“The Red Violin,” “Silk”) who also crated Cirque’s Toronto production Zed, Zarkana is a beautiful journey, perhaps more cohesive, and with lyrics that can be understood (not always a given in these shows) than any other Cirque production I have seen.
The show’s title is a fusion of the words “bizarre” and “arcana” (meaning “mystery” or “secret”) and represents the twisted fictional world of Zarkana, an elusive destination that is fantastic yet bizarre. The story follows magician Zark (I can’t find a credit for the actors), dramatically outfitted in a red-and-black costume (Alan Hranitelj designs the multitudes of colorful costumes blending with and contrasting from the setting) who loses his love and assistant, Zia, along with his powers. He returns to an abandoned theater where he once was successful to try to find them. There he encounters numerous characters including two clowns, four “Mutant Ladies,” The Pickled Lady, Mandragora, Kundalini and Tarantula, who try to seduce Zark, as well as a variety of acrobats, balancers and high wire performers.
Girard expertly directs, so that the circus acts, including trapeze, the wheel of death, hand balancing, a flag throwing number and even a sand-art presentation by an Oracle, blend with the story. He also keeps all of the action focused and everyone on stage seems connected (there are some 75 artists involved). Playing a role themselves, are Stephanie Roy’s breathtaking sets, anchored by three arches on the massive Radio City Music Hall stage, where large pieces of equipment or blooming flowers simply vanish or appear through the stage floor (Roy also designs the props). Each set change looks like a work of art. The color blends and details are meticulous and highlighted by Alain Lortie’s lighting design.
There’s a great spider web for Tarantula making us wonder why Spider-man Turn Off the Dark didn’t just used something like this and save themselves a lot of injuries. Video projections on a 90-by-40-foot LED arch add even more depth. The Picked Lady is a kind of creepy multi-limbed baby in a jar and more than 150 snakes writhing around Kundalini’s fiery pit arch are almost a bit too realistic….
Nick Littlemore composes and directs a score that is somewhere between blues and soul with Zark sounding like a soulful Elvis (though Girard himself classifies the work as a rock opera). The band is housed in two 28-foot tall, 9,000-pound-plus “eagle-head bandstands” raised stage left and right. Debra Brown and Jean-Jacques Pillet choreograph. Florence Pot is the acrobatic performance designer. Line Tremblay is the director of creation.
The two-and-a-half-hour production is fast moving and satisfying. It includes a 20-minute intermission. Little kids at the performance I attended seemed engrossed. From a Christian perspective, though the story plot involves a magician, an oracle and seduction, I would venture to say that like most Cirque shows, the plot gets lost in the spectacle. If you hadn’t read the details here, it’s very likely you wouldn’t follow them during the show with all of the visual stimulation and interesting circus acts. I didn’t note any objectionable parts.
Zarkana runs through Oct. 8 at Radio City Music Hall, 1260 Avenue of the Americas (6th Avenue), NYC.
Tickets range from $47 to $130 with a limited number of premium tickets available. For tickets, go to www.cirquedusoleil.com/zarkana or call 866-858-0008.
Tuesdays through Fridays at 8 pm; Saturdays at 2 pm and 8 pm; Sundays at 2 pm and 7 pm. Wednesday matinees at 2 pm begin July 13.
Cirque du Soleil
From a group of 20 street performers at its beginnings in 1984, Cirque du Soleil is now a major Quebec-based organization providing high-quality artistic entertainment. The company has 5,000 employees, including more than 1,500 performing artists from close to 50 different countries. For more information, visit http://www.cirquedusoleil.com/.