Cirque du Soleil’s OVO…
Deborah Colker…Banana Spheel
By Ellis Nassour
Cirque du Soleil has returned to New York and has pitched its trademark 2,500-seat blue-and-yellow grand chapiteau again at Randall’s Island, where it’s scheduled to play through June 6. Things are a bit different with this edition, titled OVO. It’s about time. For one thing, at its helm is a woman director for the first time in Cirque’s quarter century of shows, acclaimed Brazilian choreographer Deborah Colker. Her much-honored contemporary dance troupe tours the world. And the show has a new beat, very Brazilian.
Montreal-based Cirque has become a huge worldwide entertainment entity. It presents 21 shows throughout the world. Though all are colorful and exciting in various ways, the tented shows have recently been affected with a sameness. Colker was hand-picked two years ago by CduS co-owner Guy Laliberté thought it was time to shake things up. "I think they had been looking for me for a long time," she laughs. "They had been watching for a long time what I have been doing." A CduS VP met Colker after a performance of her dance company in London in 2006 "and that’s how it all began. They invited me to create a show. Guy said he wanted a show about nature and bio-diversity, my first instinct was to choose the insect world. I brought my way to think movement and combined it with all the famous Cirque du Soleil style. I feel I’ve breathed new breath into Cirque.
" It’s good to report that OVO is undoubtedly the best CduS in several years – not so much because it’s earth-shattering different as far as acrobatic and thrill acts go; but because it dances. Colker brought aboard award-winning Brazilian film composer Berna Ceppas, an old friend who composed for her dance company. The OVO score is a fusion of samba, forró [the traditional music of Brazil’s Northeast], carimbó [Latin and Afro rhythms], reggae, Rio fun [the electronic beat favored in the city’s favelas [shanty towns], and unique "Cirquephonic." The exuberant Colker, who also choreographed and wrote, speaking in deeply accented English but with a Portuguese lilt describes OVO as "a headlong rush into a colorful ecosystem teeming with life, a sort of rain forest, where insects work, eat, crawl, flutter, play, and fight. I love to work on a large scale and create a big impact with tons of energy and excitement. "The world created for this show teems with contrasts," she continues. "The hidden, secret world at our feet is revealed as tender and torrid, chaotic and tranquil. With each new day, the vibrant cycle of insect life begins anew. It was important to me to bring to audiences the feelings and different movements of each insect group."
The name translates as "egg" in Portuguese and "it’s this timeless symbol of the life cycle that’s the underlying thread of the show. When a mysterious egg appears in the rain forest, the insects – everything from dragonflies, soldier ants, and the segue from cocoon to butterfly to spiders, scarabs, and never-before-seen-or-heard-of "monsters" – are awestruck and intensely curious about this iconic object. And, yes, there’s a love story – between a gawky, quirky insect and riotous ladybug.
The cast comprises 54 performing artists from 16 different countries. None were dancers, reports Colker. "And that’s the way I wanted it. My decision was to not have dancers attempt to be acrobats, but to train acrobats to be dancers. I wanted to make all these acrobats move and dance to tell my story through body language." Rehearsals began in Montreal in October, 2008 and ran through April, 2009. "Those seven months allowed me by Cirque du Soleil gave me the opportunity to create an original work set against a particular theme.
" OVO has clowns, singers, and all manner of acts that combine such circus disciplines as banquine, Russian swing, and swinging chair.
They include hand balancing, foot juggling, aerial silk, Spanish web, and contortion. There are three supreme highlights: the Act One finale, Scarabs Valant, a six-person Russian troupe who fly high, high, high [40 feet, in fact] in and through the air – doing triple and quad somersaults – often sans trapeze [in free fall into the hands of the catcher]; an edge-of-the-seat slack wire act; and the grand finale, Trampo-wall, an extended, thrill act featuring 20 multi-national artists running, jumping, and leaping on trampolines and landing atop a 24-foot vertical climbing wall.
Artistic guides are CduS owners Laliberté and Gilles Ste-Croix. Chantal Tremblay is director of creation, with scenic design by Gringo Cardia. Colorful, often Felliniesque costumes and unique makeup are trademarks of every Cirque show; and that’s certainly true of OVO. Costumes are by Liz Vandal, with make-up by Julie Bégin. The OVO score, currently available on iTunes, will be available as a CD on April 27. Tickets are $55-$140 for adults; $38.50-$98 for children 2-12 years old; and, weekdays only, $49.50-$117 for senior and students. They are available at www.cirquedusoleil/ovo or by calling (800) 450-1480. CduS’s VIP Tapis Rouge packages are $225 for adults and $178.50 for children and includes premium seating, and access to Champagne, wine, and beverages, as well as a variety of food choices and desserts during the half-hour intermission. The on-site box office opens two hours prior to showtime. Visit the site for directions and transportation options. The U.S. presenting sponsor is iShares. Sun Life Financial, CGI, Wyndham Hotels and Resorts, Infiniti, and American Express are also participating sponsors.
As a child in her native Brazil, Deborah Colker, who is now a vibrant, energetic 49 who keeps the pace of a 20-year-old, grew up in a creative environment. Her father was a violinist and conductor and she played piano from age eight. "I was quite good," she notes, explaining that by age 14 she was playing with an orchestra. "But I soon realized I needed to express my emotions physically." She also became quite adept at sports, which segued into an interest in movement and dance. "I was very passionate and intense and contemporary dance gave me the chance to fit physical and intellectual emotion together."
Colker became a member of Uruguayan choreographer Graciela Figueroa’s Coringa company in 1980. In 1984, she began choreographing and directing musicals, TV programs, movies, and working with high intensity in Rio’s famed samba schools. Wanting to create a choreographic language of her own, Colker in 1994 founded her company, Companhia de Dança Deborah Colker, now a company of 20 dancers [on a two-month tour in the U.K. beginning April 23]. "We say we are a contemporary dance company, but the basis for my choreography is classical ballet. My work is like Brazil," she says, "the mix of colors, rhythms, happiness, and discovery. I was fortunate to be born in such a beautiful, creative, and musical country."
Working with Cirque was a departure from Colker’s customary way of working. While she develops concepts during the rehearsal process, for OVO she had to come up with concepts a year and a half before rehearsals began.
"I have a very physical choreographic language," says Colker. "The world of insects is one of constant movement. OVO reflects my background in dance, of course, but it also represents my lifelong love of music, the inspiration I draw from sport and the liveliness you can discover in every aspect of life."
Another Opening of Another Cirque
After much anticipation, much delay, and a complete reworking, Cirque du Soliel’s new show Banana Shpeel begin previews April 29 at the Beacon Theatre. It’s set to run through the end of Like the touring OVO, this has a different feel. In story and concept, instead of thrill acts, it harks back to the glory days of vaudeville. While there are some outstanding acts, the emphasis is on comedy and dance.
The show introduces "producer extraordinaire" Marty Schmelky, who has a larger-than-life personality. He showcases a colorful array of slapstick comedy, eclectic dance, and acrobatic acts from around the world. It doesn’t take long before some of the zanier characters are spreading mayhem and chaos. Schmelky is played by Danny Rutigliano, best known for his role as Timon in Disney’s The Lion King. Assisting Schmelky are three slapstick sidekicks,