While lawnmowers throughout the Czech Republic are mowing the first spring grass and its inhabitants, thousands of people are applauding acrobats dressed as insects in Prague’s O2 arena. On Wednesday evening, the residency of the Canadian troupe Cirque du Soleil began here. He will present the production called Ovo eight times until Sunday, May 7.
Ovo in Portuguese means egg, which symbolizes birth in the nearly two and a half hour performance. At the same time, they form an imaginary center around which a simple story unfolds. In short: a blue bug named Stranger and one of the three main characters brings a giant egg to the stage, but quickly loses it in the swarming insect kingdom. As he tries to get him back, he falls in love with Ladybug. In the end, he has to decide between her and the egg.
Only three protagonists speak in Ovo, in addition to the Stranger and the Ladybug, there is also Master Flipo, the oldest of the insect kingdom, a principal reminiscent of the imaginary Bagpiper in an adaptation of the cyberpunk genre.
Their language is insect Esperanto, a sonorous chirping punctuated with words reminiscent of English. Thus, the viewer has to read the action rather from the oscillation of insects around the hall, which is reduced by approximately half for the purposes of the project. Normally, the O2 arena has a capacity of up to 20,000 people. Now the auditorium wraps around the circular stage, so the hall really feels like a giant marquee.
The story works more like a crutch separating the acrobatic pieces that play the prim in the modern circus. This art form developed in the late 20th century, and Cirque du Soleil is one of the companies that helped define it. They started in the 1980s as a group of itinerant artists entertaining passers-by on the streets of the Canadian cities of Montreal and Quebec. Today it pays for a global entertainment company. It provides viewers with experiences similar to those of watching highly visual movies like Avatar.
In principle, animals do not appear in their performances. Acrobats, artists and dancers push the possibilities of the human body, performing sophisticated, synchronized numbers that often take your breath away. Like when in the O2 arena artists are throwing their colleagues from trapeze to trapeze high above the ground. Even when one falls into the safety net and quickly climbs back up the ladder, the whole thing feels like an intended reminder of the fact that the human body is not a perfect machine. Even the music is synchronized with the fall.
A picture from the production of Ovo in Prague’s O2 arena. | Photo: Václav Vašků
“They train hard or they go home,” the troupe’s head coach, Alexandre Pikhienko, told the Washington Post in 2010 of the daily routine that allows the performers to gracefully contort their bodies into inhuman positions.
During the solo number of the Golden-headed beetle in the O2 arena, it really seems as if its representative is not made of flesh and blood. And the feeling returns during the evening. Impressive is the artist’s transformation into a butterfly, when she is floundering in a white cocoon about ten meters above the stage.
In the finale, a suite of green bugs jump from a high climbing wall to trampolines and back. The viewer feels like they are defying gravity. Once they start jumping up and down in sync six people at once, the scene looks like an optical illusion or digital effects of Hollywood movies. Each number earns the applause of the hall, gaining strength towards the end.
The performance is accompanied by original and mostly instrumental songs. Their genres range from Latin American rhythms to funk to hard rock. Folklore with a touch of Southern Europe or classical music will be heard at times. Most of the sounds are played from pre-rolls, which slightly evokes a prefab. As soon as a female singer or violin and accordion players enter a few numbers, the mood immediately changes. Too bad there is no live band in the hall.
The cutting sound of would-be frenzied guitar solos is annoying, it remains a mystery why the beetles should solo in the style of the American virtuoso Joe Satriani. The best performance works to the rhythm of a chanson or to the sounds of classical music, but trips to pop will also work.
Cirque du Soleil is first and foremost a circus, it has no ambition to be great art. It produces mass entertainment, trying to appeal to everyone regardless of age. The tradition of the circus will mainly be remembered by the act of an artist who juggles three devils at once.
Cirque du Soleil presents Ovo in Prague’s O2 arena until Sunday. Photo: Václav Vašků | Video: Cirque du Soleil
Among the funniest moments are the interactions with the audience, the main characters sometimes involve the unsuspecting viewer in the plot. But Master Flip’s ordinary clown performances can also entertain.
The approximately eight dozen people on stage have dedicated their entire lives to honing their own strength and flexibility. They are used to working hard, now they usually play two shows a day in Prague. But muscles and tendons are not everything.
Ovo represents more of a routine within the new circus, perhaps also because it is not the hottest new thing. It premiered in Montreal in 2009, and since then, according to the creators, over seven million people have seen it. A more imaginative play with lights would not hurt, in the empty space of the largest domestic covered hall, objects could levitate in addition to artists, the insect kingdom would definitely deserve more decorations.
Today, more interesting works are created on smaller stages, which was recently demonstrated by the Czech ensemble Cirk La Putyka, when in a performance called Horáček Gen XYZ, it threw away all inhibitions and created a project that is as trans-genre as it is unique. Still, watching Ovo by Cirque du Soleil is a hundred times more sympathetic than watching a distressed elephant trying to balance on a stool. If circus, then with bugs.
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