Review: ‘Cirque du Soleil’s OVO’ at The Liacouras Center in Philadelphia

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Cirque du Soleil has made quite a reputation for themselves. For four decades the company has set out to reinvent circus with bold theatricality and tremendous physical spectacle. Cirque has become synonymous with beautiful visuals and immense, interdisciplinary entertainment. If this is the expectationOVO delivers.

The question then becomes what world will Cirque explore now and how will they bring it alive? With a revolving repertoire of twenty-one shows, 1,300 performers, a permanent residency in Las Vegas and tours worldwide, Cirque has a wide variety of shows concurrently running. These productions venture into a wide variety of environments and themes. From the golden age of Hollywood to human evolution, to the world of Avatar, a multitude of themes have been given the Cirque du Soleil treatment. With this production writer, director, choreographer Deborah Colker and Director of Creation Chantal Tremblay take us to the “hidden, secret world at our feet,” namely, the world of insects. The plot is pushed into motion when a fly brings a mysterious egg (Ovo being Portuguese for egg) into a thriving community of bugs. The presence of the giant object throws the ecosystem—replete ants, spiders, crickets and more—into a frenzy of curiosity, shock and, above all, play.

While the appearance of the egg may be the inciting incident, the show is less about the plot of the egg than it is about the bug interactions and visually striking world the creators imagine insect life to be. In usual Cirque style, this is shown through a series of astounding physical stunts. With a plethora of available talents and factors to draw the eye—skillful circus performers, live musicians, fantastic sets—Cirque runs the risk of overloading the stage with too much going on at once. OVO avoids this pitfall by giving each act its own room to breath, thereby allotting each insect group its time to shine. The styles of the acts range throughout the night, keeping the audience engaged at every turn. The red ants begin the night with a burst of energy. Six ants on their backs use their feet to juggle large kiwis and each other, with astounding precision. In an act of equal concentration and focus a dragonfly exudes beauty and grace in a hand balancing act on the vines of a plant.

Trampoline crickets. Photo courtesy of Cirque du Soleil.
Trampoline crickets. Photo by Adam Smith.

The individual acts continue through the night, shining a light on the expertise of each performer from contortionists to high flying rope acts. OVO truly shines, however, when the production finds the right balance of focus between the performers’ skills and the wonderfully imaginative physical structures, designed by Gringo Cardia, which make the feats possible. The obvious standout here is the jaw dropping wall act involving twenty crickets and ants hurling themselves up, across and over an eight meter wall—all without aerial support. The act generates the type of energy and momentum the company’s physical daring is known for. Just when you think the performers cannot top themselves, the act doubles down on it’s own daring and goes in a new, larger direction.

The costumes should not go without mention. From the beginning, the fantastic shapes and colors of by Liz Vandal’s costumes introduce OVO’s imaginative possibilities.The costumes go a long way, not to completely replicate insect anatomy, but to evoke the character of each specific insect and performer alike. The theatricality and attention to detail exhibited by Vandal’s design are exacting down to the smallest of characters and make all the difference in creating a world filled with wonder and mystery.

High-kicking ants. Photo by Adam Smith.
High-kicking ants. Photo by Adam Smith.

Still, OVO is not made up wholly of high flying acts. Three clowns stand as our guides through the insect community. The trio continually weave in and out of the circus acts, stringing along a narrative of a fly smitten with a lady bug. While undoubtedly talented clowns, at times their shenanigans seem to drag just a bit too long. Still these moments, more than many others, garnered the laughter and shouts of children and adults alike. That type of draw to a wider audience is part and parcel of what makes the production so delightful. OVO draws the attention and delight of acrobatic specialists as well as the unbridled joy of a family out for a night together. Such an ability to bring people together to escape into a world only possible through imagination is precisely the humane service so unique to the circus and OVO taps into it beautifully.

With peak design and human skill all working in tandem to create an intricate world of imagination, it’s almost possible to forget that the scarabs flipping through the air or the spider riding his unicycle upside down on a tightrope are human at all. However, that is precisely the virtue Cirque du Soleil continues to prove: the great heights human imagination and skill can bring us to are virtually boundless.

Running Time: Two hours and twenty minutes, with an intermission.

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OVO plays through Sunday, May 15, 2016 at The Liacouras Center—1776 North Broad Street, in Philadelphia PA. For tickets, call the box office at (800) 298-4200, or purchase them online.