When Cirque du Soleil first pitched its stunning blue-and-white tent in a vacant lot in Midtown back in 1991, with a show called “Saltimbanco,” the Canadian circus was not yet a nom du ménage. Atlantans had to be convinced that an international avant-garde circus with no animals, New Age music, weird costumes, occasional metaphor overload and high ticket prices was an event not to be missed.
Almost 20 years later, Cirque is indeed a household name, a capital-B Brand that owns big chunks of the Las Vegas nightlife scene and churns out new touring productions like an assembly line. It’s come to Atlanta 11 times now, including the just-opened “Ovo” at Atlantic Station, its most enjoyable show to play here in years. “Ovo” has a light storyline that actually makes sense (forgoing some of the we’re-oh-so-mysterioso symbolism that can get pretentious), some of the most dazzling costumes ever, the usual top-notch acts of superhuman skills, a little more kid appeal and, most importantly, a more unified sense of coherence than some Cirque productions have managed.
Cirque’s 25th production is set in an ecosystem populated by crickets, lizards, butterflies and praying mantises, among other insects (no bedbugs, though). The main characters are Ladybug, a roly-poly bundle of glee; Foreigner, a fly who arrives at the buggy community and becomes smitten with the Ladybug; and Master Flipo, chief of the insects. The fly brings with him a huge egg, the titular Ovo, which gets passed around, joked about, ooed and cooed and fought over. And yes, in the tradition of many Cirque props, we never find out what the egg is, or is for, or whatever. Maybe it’s an Egg McGuffin.
As the insects hop, flutter, climb and wiggle around the huge stage, the acts are woven into the non-stop movement: four ants who lie on their backs juggling fruits and veggies the size of ottomans with their feet; a male and female butterfly, wrapped around each other, who soar on a rope in one of those sexy-but-not-dirty Cirque pieces; balancing and contortionist acts and trapeze guys dressed as bronzed cockroaches; and the delightful Creatura, which looks like a bunch of huge organic dryer hoses stuck together, dances a mean samba and is one of the most inventive and hallucinogenic Cirque creations ever, which is saying something. (They could sell out of Creaturas for $50 a pop in the big Cirque souvenir arcade; goodness knows they sell everything else.)
The finale is astounding: about a dozen performers in skin-tight green lizard suits use trampolines to run straight up the vertical face of a 25-foot wall and perform stunts. There is nothing to compare with the Wheel of Death from 2009’s “Kooza,” however, and Cirque veterans may feel as if they’ve seen a lot of acts similar to these.
“Ovo” was written, directed and choreographed by Deborah Colker, a Brazilian choreographer who had never even seen a Cirque show when the company approached her to create one. (“Ovo” is Portuguese for egg.) You can hear her native country in the lilting rhythms of the music, which is intercut with recorded insect sounds that fill the big tent. Colker’s concept seems more seamless than some other Cirque shows, with more choreographed segments (duh) in which all 54 performers fill the stage. Big props also go to the major creative contributors: Berna Cepas (composer), Gringo Cardia (set design) and Liz Vandal (costume design).
Ticket prices for Cirque can be scary: “Ovo’s” are listed at $35 to $255 (for VIP perks), but there isn’t a bad seat in the tent, and you can get excellent seats for $70 to $90. It’s scheduled through December 4, but Cirque runs in Atlanta are almost always extended, so expect it to play through the end of the year, meaning it could be a potential Christmas present.