Read about the family-friendly show Ovo, the first female-directed production from Cirque du Soleil, which comes to New York this spring.
Randall's Island Park is teeming with insects... red ants, butterflies, spiders, crickets, fireflies, beetles...the most formidable being a supersized ladybug. And every one of these creatures has been given free rein to squiggle, soar, chirp, crawl, contort, and climb without fear of being swatted, squished, sprayed, or otherwise exterminated. Because this particular collection of insects equals the sum and parts of Ovo, Cirque du Soleil's latest big top touring production and, well, it just wouldn't be polite (not to mention PC) to step on a star performer.
Cirque du Soleil is, of course, known for trafficking in surreal realms, but never before has it invited audiences into such a richly parti-colored ecosystem to experience its trademark assortment of acts of jaw-dropping athleticism and physical beauty. But then Ovo is a show of many firsts, starting with the writer-director-choreographer, Deborah Colker-Cirque's first female director.
Born and raised in Brazil, Colker founded her highly acclaimed dance company, Companhia de Dança Deborah Colker, in 1994. It was in 2006, after seeing a performance of Colker's work Knot in London, however, that key Cirque people suggested they work together on a project of her own creation that she would both choreograph and direct. "I knew immediately the show must be related to nature and biodiversity," she recalls, adding that it was her dance background that provided the unique perspective on how she would present the various acts and the characters, like the clowns, that are integral to the Cirque experience.
"I tell a story with movement-this is my vocabulary. My words are body language," Colker says. "When I was choosing the clowns, I was thinking about movement, music, storytelling, and bringing the whole concept together."
The story that unfolds in Ovo centers on a huge and mysterious egg ("ovo" is Portuguese for "egg") that is brought into a community of insects by an "outsider" fly. "The other insects, never having seen anything like it, steal the egg. Meanwhile the fly, who's trying to get the egg back, falls in love with this big lady bug," explains Colker who, not surprisingly, found herself falling in love, as well, with her creation.
"When I saw the show last September in Toronto, I cried. I felt, 'Wow, I love this show.' It's totally Cirque, but I could recognize my heart and soul in it," she says. "And I love every part of it...from when the insects wake up in the humid early morning to the crickets and the ants and the spiders...I love the spiders."
The way Colker breathes life into her entomological menagerie-channeled by 54 performing artists from 13 different countries-is as magical as it is visually stunning and graceful. The acts themselves, for example, include a hand-balancing dragonfly; butterflies who combine hand-to-hand, ballet, contortion, and aerial flying; a gravity defying spider negotiating a slackwire; a deft quintet of foot-juggling ants; and a stunner of a finale known simply as "Wall" in which 20 artists run, jump, saunter, and walk straight up a 24-foot vertical wall. Also on the program is an aerial act involving the circus discipline of the banquine, the Russian Swing and the swinging chair-a "must be seen to be believed" number. Oh, and there's an enigmatic solo performance by "The Creatura" -part Slinky, part insect-described as "a bendy, twisty knot of stretchy limbs in constant motion."
What: Cirque du Soleil's Ovo in New York
When: April 9 through June 6. 8pm Tuesday-Thursday; 4pm and 8pm Friday and Saturday; 1pm and 5pm Sunday
Where: Under the blue and yellow Grand Chapiteau (Big Top) at Randall's Island Park
How Much: $55-$140 adults; $38.50-$98 children 2-12; $49.50-$117 seniors (weekdays only)
For more info: www.cirquedusoleil.com
In the end, however, Colker believes the biggest selling point for kids is that the show is set up so that they will actually feel like insects themselves. "The set is like a nest, a house of insects," she says. "The leaves and flowers are huge...the nets are huge...everything reflects the eye view of an insect, and all the while the insects are bringing transformation to the stage...like when the cocoon transforms into a butterfly."
Ovo's vivid, color-drenched world of macro and micro contrasts delights Canadian audiences that have already given the show an enthusiastic thumbs-up (the Randall's Island booking marks the show's U.S. debut).
"I love when I can see the audience involved in the motion of the show, especially at the end when they clap their hands and dance with every part of their bodies," Colker says, noting that each Ovo performance ends with the audience surrendering to the music and kinetic energy (inspired by Forró, a Brazilian street dance) that fills the big top. "You cannot just sit... you have to move, to shake your feelings through the body. You will not be the same after Ovo," she predicts.