Cirque du Soleil

I

saw my first ever Cirque du Soleil show last night. Imagine that – 31

years old, and somehow I’d managed to avoid it until now. Snob that I am, I

expected mass-market middlebrow entertainment, and went as much out of curiosity

as out of any particular desire to see what all the fuss was about. But I wasn’t

about to pay $95 for a ticket. Fortunately, a Large European Bank provided me

with an invitation, as well as the all-important transportation to and from

Randall’s Island.

Cirque du Soleil is even better than Andrew Lloyd Webber and Cameron Mackintosh

when it comes to persuading vast swathes of the population to pay eye-popping

prices to go see a show. Every day in Las Vegas, hundreds of people line up

at the Bellagio hotel in an unsuccessful attempt to buy $110 tickets to that

day’s performance of O: it’s been going for five years now, and still

sells out 2,000 seats at each and every performance.

This is not a run-away-and-join-the-circus sort of show: it’s very slick, very

professional, and very focused on the most important thing, which is making

money. The shops sell everything from $12 "souvenir programmes" (which

take about a minute to read) to discarded items of clothing from previous productions

on sale for thousands of dollars each. The circus’s founder, already one of

the richest men in Canada, says he expects to be a $1 billion-a-year business

by 2007. And yet there’s no mistaking the goodwill of the audience: people are

really excited to see this show, and if anything the high prices only serve

to heighten their expectations.

The sold-out crowd for Varekai, Cirque du Soleil’s latest production,

started arriving well over an hour before the performance began. I know this

because I did, too, but at least I had the VIP tent to check out, complete with

free-flowing Champagne and delicious canapés. Cirque du Soleil lays on

a great VIP experience, with its own mini-performances, fabulous costumes, along

with fully-decked-out circus objects like crazy mechanised heads and fluffy

bugs crawling around on aerial wires. I have no idea what the non-VIPs did:

queue up to buy popcorn, I suppose. Randall’s Island is an unpreposessing place,

a lump of nothing much stuck in the northern reaches of the East River, between

Manhattan, the Bronx and Queens. But the circus itself is colourful enough,

with a brightly-swirling yellow-and-blue big top, if no sideshows.

When everybody was seated, the show began, very, very, slowly. One costumed

person came out and crawled around the stage in a vaguely bug-like manner, followed

by a few more. This went on for a long while until an incomprehensible clown

act marked segued, finally, into a beautiful aerial act by an Icarus figure,

sans wings, rolling around in mid-air in a big net. After that, things speeded

up a bit, and we had a series of impressive circus acts, including three amazing

Chinese kids who did incredible things with lengths of rope.

Ultimately, however, a circus act is a circus act. Girls hanging off a trapeze,

guys jumping over each other, people balancing in difficult positions: these

are the bread-and-butter of any circus, and although Cirque du Soleil does them

well, it doesn’t shatter any boundaries. The only thing it’s missing is a high-wire

act, and apparently there’s no shortage of those in other Cirque du Soleil productions.

This is not Archaos, with its motorcycles

and chainsaws; rather, it’s an expensive and slightly new-agey show which gussies

up an old-fashioned circus so much that it becomes entertainment for grown-ups

rather than for children. (Soon, there’ll be a genuinely adult show, Zumanity,

although judging by its FAQ,

Cirque du Soleil has gone overboard on both portentiousness and pretentiousness.

Why not just do something sexy, seeing as how it’s going to be permanently based

in Las Vegas?)

The conversation during the intermission rarely got beyond the "which

act was your favourite" phase: Varekai certainly isn’t thought-provoking,

or even something it’s remotely easy to talk about in any way at all. Thankfully,

Julia Roberts was seated a couple of rows in front of us, so the bond investors

and bankers had a ready-made topic to gossip about. The show is all about present-time

experience: schlubby Americans marvelling at the athleticism and stamina of

some phenomenally talented performers. (To make things even more impressive,

this show is put on ten times a week.) Once it’s over, it’s over.

This is something I’ve never been very good at: admiring art of any form just

because it’s physically difficult. That’s one of the reasons I’m no great fan

of dance, either classical or modern, and why virtuoso musical performances

often leave me cold as well. Ultimately, that’s what a circus is all about:

seeing people and animals do things you never thought that a member of that

species would be capable of doing. Cirque du Soleil, quite rightly, has never

used animals, but the principle remains.

So should you splash out on tickets for Cirque du Soleil? Michelle says

it’s "a pretty good experience" and that you should go if you can

make it and the tickets are free; I’m basically of the same view. If you love

the circus, then rush to Randall’s Island: this will be paradise for you. If

you’re generally indifferent to circuses, however, then it’s unlikely Cirque

du Soleil is going to change your mind.

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19 Responses to Cirque du Soleil

  1. hedge says:

    I come from a family that delights in “mass-market middlebrow entertainment,” and since I’m a generally agreeable fellow (especially when others are paying), I’ve seen my fair share of Lloyd Webber, Bobby McFerrin at the symphony, and Neil Diamond in-the-round in Vegas.

    Several years ago, I was taken to see Soleil’s “O” soon after it opened in Vegas. I’ve never been able to describe the experience, and I’ve in fact been frustrated at the utter numbness that comes when I try to think of it. You’ve done me a great service here with your essay. “That’s it,” is how I felt reading it. Yes.

    Whenever I’m taken to one of these things, there’s always that awkward post-spectacle moment when the hubbub dies down and someone, usually an aunt, asks the inevitable: So what did you think?

    “It was nice,” is usually as much as I can muster.

  2. Friedrich von Blowhard says:

    Can I join your anti-Cirque du Soleil club?

    I’ve been two or three times, and all I ever do is sit there thinking–where do they get these performers (Eastern Europe? the Third World?), how much are they getting paid, why aren’t any of the performers billed, why did I have to pay so much for my ticket? In short, I seem to attend the show pretty much wearing my businessman’s hat.

    On a purely aesthetic level looking at some incredible human specimens is okay, but somewhere along the line I developed an aversion to being “entertained” by having performers flirt with an element of physical danger (like doing gymnastic stunts 50 feet off the ground.)

    As you might imagine, I’ve pretty well sworn off future Cirque performances. Life is too short.

  3. Katie says:

    Am I the only one here that’s not thinking that Cirque du Soleil is not just a scam to make money? The reason people are willing to pay so much is because they are loyal patrons and they want the quality of the shows to stay at such the amazing standard they’ve always held. Not to mention that the founder also does a great deal of humanitarian work, which only pays in warm fuzzys.

    I saw Dralion when it came to my town in August and all I can remember is being completely swept away. Sure, they had some elements of regular circus, but the atmosphere was such a pleasant change from standard American circus.

    Maybe it’s just the performer in me biting back at this, but I felt I had to say something. I’m sorry if I offended anyone.

  4. Mdg says:

    In reply to the guy who received free VIP tickets and got the ultimate experience…including free champagne and appetizers….and still had the audacity to mock those that Paid for less expensive tickets–(standing in queue for popcorn)as you rudely stated…..I wish you never had the luxury of experiencing the artists talent of Cirque du Soleil..Their talent is wasted on people such as yourself…Have you been to a gym lately and tried even ONE of their acts????? Sooo you think its a rip off price—-HAVE You thought a lttle bit more you May have Considered the HIGH Insurance and medical….let alone traveling overhead…ect…..Good for them to come from hard times in youth to accomplish so much and continue to this day to give back to Omfax..soooo the more money Cirque du Soleil does profit—the more the children with an unfortunate life have a hope for the future——-sooo any more negative comments from ya??? Huh

  5. Nikki says:

    I don’t know where you’ve been, but Cirque Du Soleil shows are the most beautiful performances I have ever seen. After traveling all over America and Europe I have yet to witness a show superior to Cirque Du Soleil. The artists are spectacular, and the scenes and settings are just lush with excitement and beauty. The American circuses are full of poorly maintained animals, cheap clowns, and bargain-price performers. Cirque Du Soleil on the other hand is full of art, beauty, and attitude. A story plays itself out while wonderful performers twist, contort, and tumble gracefully around the stage. Those who cannot perceive such beauty are better off spending $10 to watch idiot clowns “pie” eachother while animals perform under whip and chain. J’aime Cirque Du Soleil! Bon soir!

  6. chelsea says:

    WRONG!!!!!!!! Cirque du soleil is GREAT!! aparently you no nothing about the work that goes into making it!!!!!!!!!! you should have watched Bravo’s Fire within (making of varikai)

    I am sure that might have changed your mind (people who dont like cirque) HEY!!!! i have got an idea why dont you try to do some of the things they do!!! start your own circus if you think you can do better, but just stop going around and speading RUDE opinions!!!

  7. Julie says:

    I saw my first Cirque du Soleil show last month (La Nouba) and I thought it was absolutely AMAZING! At first I didn’t understand why people paid so much money to go see the shows, but after I walked out, I myself started thinking about how I wanted to go see the rest of the shows. Apparently there are even better ones in Vegas! One day…I’ll see them all!

  8. eswin says:

    cirque du soleil rules!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  9. Kamio says:

    I’m amazed at how vehement Cirque defenders become when faced with any sort of detractors. Kind of depressing.

    A finer point lost on many people is the subjective nature of opinions. No single opinion is ever “right” or “wrong”, and no amount of excessive punctuation can ever make it so.

  10. Kristen says:

    Attraction is relative.

    The things you enjoy are all up to you. Just because you do or do not enjoy something doesn’t mean others won’t, Plus, the thing to remember is it’s easier to enjoy something if you keep an open mind. But it seems to me that when you went to see Varekai you already had your mind made up about it.

    Sure, $90 a ticket is one of the farthest things from a bargain but when you open your eyes and try to enjoy the work and beauty that goes into Cirque maybe you would get more out of it.

    No one is making you buy twelve dollar programs.

  11. Jared says:

    You know, these are HIS thoughts on the matter. He was not directly attacking any one person as many of you pro-Cirque are. I’m glad I haven’t seen the shows yet merely so that I can see what people have to say about them without having my own input on it.

    From what I read up there, based on what I’ve heard from others, he does sum up many of the parts of the show that some people have problems with (such as the high price). And I say “some” loosely, as the remaining “many” probably don’t agree that the price is fine.

    If you like the fine arts, then it seems like this is the kind of show for you. Admire them for their flexibility/strength/etc. Do as you may. However, if you are unimpressed with simply watching others do things that anyone who practices for a long time may do, then there are other, less costly, more engaging things to do.

  12. Scotia says:

    Excuse you mr. “Felix”!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! i happen to be a training contortionist and if you think it’s easy i’ll take you to the gym so you can try some of the things they do!!!!!!!!!! do you know how goddamn hard it is?????????? you can keep your rude comments to yourself!!!!!!!!!!!! the Cirque du Soleil is the best circus i have ever seen!!!!!!!!!!!! so you know what? all of the people that are NOT against Cirque du Soleil can take you and have you try to get a job there and then you can try to sit your sore butt down and say that it is not hard!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  13. Scotia says:

    Excuse you mr. “Felix”!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! i happen to be a training contortionist and if you think it’s easy i’ll take you to the gym so you can try some of the things they do!!!!!!!!!! do you know how goddamn hard it is?????????? you can keep your rude comments to yourself!!!!!!!!!!!! the Cirque du Soleil is the best circus i have ever seen!!!!!!!!!!!! so you know what? all of the people that are NOT against Cirque du Soleil can take you and have you try to get a job there and then you can try to sit your sore butt down and say that it is not hard!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  14. Scotia says:

    Excuse you mr. “Felix”!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! i happen to be a training contortionist and if you think it’s easy i’ll take you to the gym so you can try some of the things they do!!!!!!!!!! do you know how hard it is?????????? you can keep your rude comments to yourself!!!!!!!!!!!! the Cirque du Soleil is the best circus i have ever seen!!!!!!!!!!!! so you know what? all of the people that are NOT against Cirque du Soleil can take you and have you try to get a job there and then you can try to sit your sore butt down and say that it is not hard!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  15. Scotia says:

    Excuse you mr. “Felix”! i happen to be a training contortionist and if you think it’s easy i’ll take you to the gym so you can try some of the things they do! do you know how hard it is?? you can keep your rude comments to yourself! the Cirque du Soleil is the best circus i have ever seen!! so you know what? all of the people that are NOT against Cirque du Soleil can take you and have you try to get a job there and then you can try to sit your sore butt down and say that it is not hard!!!!

  16. Gabi says:

    Wooowww..I do agree with the one that performer’s talent is total waste on ppl like “Felix”.I have seen 2 of their shows-”O” and “Zumanity” and they both were awesome,amazing.I will never EVER understand why ppl are willing to pay $300.00 in a strip club for half an hour of private dances where they cannot even do anything and all they see is topless dancer’s body brushing here and there against their body and they are finding big deal in paying $200.00 for the “O” show!!! How pathetic!!! And this is coming from me,a dancer.But than,maybe,mister Felix,you probably won’t spend even $20.00 at the strip club and your drinks are probably usually on some1…am I right? But am not here trying to offend you or anything like that.We all red your opinion on Cirque and now we have red mine.Some ppl just have higher standard in entertainment.Some would never understand what art really is…What an art Cirque Du Soleil is…

  17. Gabi says:

    Wooowww..I do agree with the one that performer’s talent is total waste on ppl like “Felix”.I have seen 2 of their shows-”O” and “Zumanity” and they both were awesome,amazing.I will never EVER understand why ppl are willing to pay $300.00 in a strip club for half an hour of private dances where they cannot even do anything and all they see is topless dancer’s body brushing here and there against their body and they are finding big deal in paying $200.00 for the “O” show!!! How pathetic!!! And this is coming from me,a dancer.But than,maybe,mister Felix,you probably won’t spend even $20.00 at the strip club and your drinks are probably usually on some1…am I right? But am not here trying to offend you or anything like that.We all red your opinion on Cirque and now we have red mine.Some ppl just have higher standard in entertainment.Some would never understand what art really is…What an art Cirque Du Soleil is…

  18. Leah says:

    I perform for Cirque Du Soleil and i would like to let you know that we work work incredibly hard to train our bodies to do the stunts that we do.

    I read your post ‘felix’ and i accept that you feel that Cirque Du Soleil is not for everybody, however for those individuals that are interested in Cirque, our shows give an amazing experiance.

    It really doesnt matter if you have a VIP ticket or not.

    Please ‘felix’ i have to say, dont slag off the people that bought regular tickets.

    Thanks

    Roxanne (:

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