nytheatre.com review by Robert Weinstein
April 9, 2010
Cirque Du Soleil's OVO begins with a dance performed by several creatures in what appears to be a rainforest but which the press notes describe as a "colorful ecosystem teeming with life." The dance introduces the denizens of this magical place and to that end it is extraordinarily successful. Crickets and scarabs, spiders and ants; each insect presents itself to the audience as though auditioning for a spot on nature's catwalk. The choreography fills the stage with dynamic bodies that stretch, arc, and fly in all directions. The chaos of the dance, in combination with the pulsating rhythms of Berna Ceppas's compositions and Eric Champoux's exuberant lighting, overwhelms the senses and sets the tone for the rest of the show.
The word "Ovo" is Portuguese for "egg," a potent symbol of fertility, rebirth and—given its shape—life's cyclical nature. OVO the show intends to use this symbol to explore the richness of life within this magical forest. The creatures work, play, argue, fall in love, mate, and perform phenomenal acrobatic feats: Six women dressed as bright red ants juggle oversized kiwi slices with their feet, tossing them high in the air to themselves and each other without missing a beat. Not content with that feat, they toss each other's bodies as well. A diabolo-wielding firefly tosses four spools into the stratosphere employing a variety of moves and rhythms in the time it takes the spools to ascend and descend. A seated spider pulls her leg back over her shoulder and another web-spider does a handstand on her foot in a move I am not yet a good enough writer to describe. There are so many amazing acts that the person I attended the play with leaned toward me and repeatedly uttered, "I've never seen anything like that before." I couldn't have agreed more and later concluded that anyone sitting through OVO without at least thinking a variation of that phrase should probably quit going to the theatre while they're still behind.
Writer-director-choreographer Deborah Colker and her team of accomplished designers clearly know their way around a stage. They create images so startlingly beautiful—be on the lookout for the large sprouting and retracting plants that appear from the upper corners of the stage as well as the shadows dancing on the tent walls during the aerial silk act—that it is strange to report that the execution of these acts detract from the show's momentum. Colker never finds a way to mesh the acts into the show's overall structure. She surrounds the acrobatics with dance and audience-interaction sequences that seem rushed, and their connection to each other feels forced and incidental. This results in stilted rhythms and a world that never coalesces. Rather than a world with its own life and logic, it becomes a well-lit space in which movement and music happen to happen.
The possibilities of what this world could have been only became apparent during the finale in which a group of crickets, ants, fleas, and scarabs go to work on a set of trampolines and a 24-foot vertical climbing wall. Here, Colker showcases not only the performers' skills but the effects their acumen elicits. A cricket leaps off the wall, bounces off an unseen floor, and seems to float back to the top; another speeds down a runway, leaps onto a trampoline and, as though pulled magnetically, lands easily on the wall's stubs. Colker slowly builds the pace and the number of participants until the stage comes to life with ten insects leaping and flipping on the trampolines while another ten climb—sometimes upon one another—and swing each other across the wall. The arrangement was truly breathtaking.