Location: Cincinnati, Ohio, United States

Monday, May 09, 2011

TR: OVO by Cirque Du Soleil - Cincinnati, OH 5/8/11

Trip Report: "OVO" by Cirque Du Soleil
Coney Island
Cincinnati, OH
May 8, 2011

"Let's party with the insect world!"

Background: I am a professed Cirque fan, having attended 6 of their shows to date. "OVO" would make my seventh, a nice lucky number. Unlike my last few trips to see Cirque, I would not have to leave Cincinnati, also unlike my last few trips to see Cirque, I failed to secure tickets in time to receive any benefit the Cirque Club pre sale may have offered.

A brief trip down memory lane is in order, I had seen Cirque on TV, but my first live performance was when "Quidam" played Cincinnati in 2006 under the Grand Chapiteau. I was instantly hooked, and the following year found me at the Ohio State Fairgrounds to see "Corteo" under the big top. In the years that followed I managed to catch "Saltimbanco" at the Nutter Center in Dayton, "O" at the Bellagio in Las Vegas, "KA" at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, and "Alegria" at Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.

In general I think the Vegas shows offer the best Cirque has to offer, and that may be due to having custom built multi-million dollar performance spaces, as well as the seemingly infinite bankroll of a Las Vegas casino backing them up. Next come the tent shows, or Grand Chapiteau. These are performed literally in parking lots using their own custom tents, and the space within provides a very intimate setting. Lastly, are the arena adpatations, so designed to reduce travel costs and setup time. Allowing Cirque to get into cities that don't warrant the Grand Chapiteau, and allow for shorter runs to be more profitable. Compared to a tent, you sit much further away from the stage in an arena, and the shows are somewhat cut down.

When I bought the tickets for "OVO" who would have guessed the strange weather patterns that would occur this spring. Sure, the Ohio River is prone to flooding, it's one of the contributing factors to the original Coney Island moving up to Mason, being reborn as Kings Island. The smaller Coney Island of today proudly sports a flood gauge that illustrated the parks infamous history with the river, and a lot of buildings bear "water line" plaques from some of the worst flooding. That's all well and good, and in fact when we had The Flood of 2011 Pt 1. in March, it was usually safe to assume we had the yearly flooding event in the books. It was a decent size flood in March, who would have thought just one month later the floods would return. The local paper and various news sources had photos of the Grand Chapiteau taking on a new role as pool toy in the Ohio River. As the river kept getting higher, I was genuinely starting to wonder if I'd even see the show. I mean at some point they have to cut their losses, protect their investment and run for the hills, right?

As it turns out, they were able to get in the media preview and one public performance before the river claimed title to the big top. The show went dark from April 22 clear through May 2, wiping out as much as a third of the shows performances. I think they managed to get some back by adding a day here, a matinee there. At first the cancellations were day by day, when they went ahead and called off a whole week, I got proactive and called Montreal instead of waiting for my name to come up in the queue to get reseated. At around 3:00 of the day they called the show off for a week or more, I was able to connect right away to a friendly person who indicated they were in Montreal, who even had some time for small talk about the local situation. It wasn't long until I had new tickets, and as a bonus when they exchanged the tickets, they first refunded the full price (including the Convenience and Service Fees), but when they sold me the new seats they waived all the fees, selling me the seats at true face value. Over three seats, that worked out to be about a $50 savings right there.

I rescheduled for May 8th, which was the next Sunday, same time, and just one row further back than what I had. Sounds like a fair trade to me.

So, May 8th comes, and we head to a, thankfully, dry Coney Island. Parking was $10 in lots surrounding the tent city, Owing to mom's handicap parking permit, we were directed to park in the Tapis Rouge section of the lot, which placed us literally outside the gates of the compound. Shortly after 4pm, we made our way through the gates in the chain link perimeter fence.

You first enter into a little plaza that has on the left a blue and yellow box office trailer, and on the right a white tent for one of the sponsors, as well as the blue and yellow Tapis Rouge tent. Tapis Rouge provides some VIP perks to those willing to pay about double the normal face value of a premium seat.

Straight ahead there are two carts with carnival style barkers selling programs, soundtrack CD's or the combo pack. It's priced such that a program is $13, a CD is $16, but WAIT for $20 you get the combo pack. Why do I get the feeling they sell mostly combo packs. Well, I have these items from every show I have been to, so out goes another $20 bill. Just past these carts the plaza forks with two entrances, on your ticket you are assigned a "door" number, and the two entrances from the plaza are split into even and odd sections. (Ok, idiot proofed into "1-3-5-7" and "2-4-6-8") Our seats were in Door #2 territory, so we proceeded to the even side, here you enter the merchandise tent, or as a friend calls it, "The Revenue Tent". Carnival folk may refer to it as inside money. At the entry point rope and stanchions split the wide walkway into three lanes where ticket "takers" with palm devices scanned your tickets upon entry. The greeter when you first arrived at the gates was imploring everybody to hold their own ticket when going through the entrance, but I don't think that was widely followed.

Here, i do see some improvement, for the other two tent shows I have attended there are two identical round tents that served the purpose of food and merchandise tents. Each one was filled about half with merchandise, leaving the other half open for the food counters along one wall. Here what they have done is filled in the space in the middle forming one big long tent, with entrances from each side.

Inside the tent, the big space in the center is a much larger gift shop, with concession counters at either far end. The corners of the tent closet to the main show tent sported full service bars, and in the center right up against the main show tent was a cafeteria style setup offering, for lack of a better term, upscale concessions like paninis and desert items. The new entry tent buts right up against the main show tent, so if you use doors 1 or 2 you enter the tent directly from the gift shop. For the other doors, you exit the merchandise tent through a big side opening into an outdoor walkway. This walkway sports the all important restroom trailers (yes, fully plumbed, where do you think you are, the Circus?) and smoking areas. It is also worth noting at in violation of every other tourist attraction, the merchandise area is not air conditioned.

We walked around, I looked at t-shirts ($29), and other trinkets. There sees to a big market on character masks and umbrellas for some reason. I thought the kids Grand Chapiteau playset looked to a a good bargain, at $30. No, I did not buy one, but it did look interesting if not quite detailed enough. I do wonder how often they have to relabel items, as the price tags list the prices of the various ites in about a half dozen different currencies.

We did stop to pick up some soft drinks ($5 each - 20 oz. bottles), and headed to join the short queue in front of door 2. Just after 4:30 an attendant comes and loosens the ropes holding the tent flap shut, we then proceeded through the tent flap and up the metal stairways into the tent. Once inside the main show tent, it was just down a few steps to Row K, and aisle seats to boot, I have found the seating in their tents to be surprisingly comfortable, and unlike our trip to see Quidam, the air conditioning was working. I don't think I am overstating it when I say the tent is practically the size of an arena. According to a Cirque Club email, the tent measures 165' in diameter, the 4 main masts or quarterpoles are 82' high. That is quite impressive to behold. On the outside it has a blue and yellow pattern, and is ringed with the flags of the nations the performers call home, and the four main masts sports a Canadian flag, an American flag (or presumably a courtesy flag to the host nation), and two Cirque Du Soleil flags.

On the inside this tent is mainly black to present an image of being outdoors at night. It seems like the interior of the tent canvas is customized to fit each shows theme, as Quidam sported a cloudy sky. Ambiant music mixed with cricket screeches and other insect noises just to put you in the mood, After we got settled in, Mom wanted popcorn, another trip to the merchandise tent for me. I see they have taken lessons from AMC. You can have this small box of popcorn for $6, or this giant box of popcorn for $6.50. Guys, why even bother with the small.

Popcorn in hand its back into the tent, I knew I didn't want to be anywhere near the last person inside as they have a way of picking on latecomers and last minute entries at Cirque shows, This was no exception as characters dressed up as beekeepers worked the crowd with nets and stuff distracting the crowd until showtime.

At showtime, after the introduction and safety announcements, the introduction starts. The shows name is OVO, which means egg in some language, and the introductory song and dance number features various insects dancing about the titular objet until the lights go out, and then come back on for the first major act.

Up first is the hand balancing act. This time the apparatus included a base that was somewhat remicicent of a fancy corkscrew, which allowed for some graceful iding up and down the corkscrew in addition to all the traditional hand balancing positions demonstrated atop the appaatus. It's a nice act to start the show, not a big attention grabber, but I have noticed Cirque likes to start their shows at a slower more graceful pace, and build up to the high energy parts of the show.

It's worth noting that all through the show there are occasionally performers perched on the stems of giant flowers, and not to spoil it (too late) the flowers to eventually open up and bloom. You can also see the band through an opening to the left of the backstage, it also seems to me you can see other actors performing, through what alost seem like windows to either side of the stage.

While the hand balancer's apparatus is removed, one of the characters hefts the big OVO through the audience eventually making it to the stage , where he gingerly sets it down while letting out a big sigh of relief. I think anybody that has hefted furniture can relate. There is some playing on and around the OVO, while settig up for the next major act.

In the next act a row of red fireflies come out each carrying a giant (to scale) slice of Kiwi. It's a juggling act, but not as you might expect, they lie down on the stage and manipulate the giant kiwi slices and then Corn on the Cob shaped pieces using just their feet. They bounce them up and down, they flip them, rotate them, even pass them from one person to another, all in perfect synchronization. It was a neat take on the traditional jugging act.

Between the acts, taking the place of the traditional clowns, you have the ladybug, and two other characters that slow the pace of the show down, allowing the acrobats to catch their breath, and for the stage to be reset for the next major act, without causing obvious breaks or downtime in the show. These guys love sight gags, and the Cirque tradition of speaking in what seems to be a strange jibberish that through their actions you seem to understand. Ciruqe is also known for using stage tricks, such as rotating turntable floors. OVO does not appear to have a turntable, but does make up for it with an over abundance of trap doors. In one scene only the characters legs poke out of the traps, and in another one, the clown characters are seem trying to ram the OVO down into a much to small trap door.

The Spanish Web act is introduced in a unique manner, as it starts out with a cacooned caterpillar high up on the rope, totally encaed in nylon beaks free of their cacoon, The resulting spanish web act, while being good technically comes across as a demonstration of the art, with seemingly no fluidity behind it other than, let's show you what all we have in our bag of tricks.

What happens next is truly bizzare, the 4 (or more) armed Giant Slinky, snake, Muppet takes the stage, It prances around and contorts to a lot of different shapes, leaving you to wonder just how many performers are concealed inside.

I'm sure I missed something along the line, but the first act ends in a jaw dropping take on the Flying Trapeeze act. It looks, for all the world, like they are setting up to do the same old Flying Trapeeze act you have seen at circuses "since the dawn of time" Let's see two catwalks on either high above and on either end of a large safety net - check. three or four performers on each catwalk, check, what looks like a trapeeze bar, check. What isn't obvious is the center platform that is slowly being lowered down. You see the trapeze bars don't fly out, instead they are rigidly mounted to the catwalks and instead act like giant swings they use to gain momentum, so that they can leap to and from the center platform. The center platform is made to look scarier as it appears to have a big hole in the middle leaving little room for error. Most of the performers have to trudge up the rope ladders to the start positions, while the last few get to ride up to the top. They even make the crickets running out into the audience to take the ends of the safety cables out to be clipped to the masts part of the act. It's a jaw dropping routine that, in my mind is all about saying "Ringling Bros. we see your trapeeze act, and we RAISE you" The act ends just as spectacularly and I was correct in my hunch that this was the high energy act to send you off to intermission thirsting for more.

During intermission, I perused the merchandise tent but failed to buy anything, and the sticker shock of $14 for a Margarita at the bar. I'm glad they had their prices posted to prevent any awkward situations. The gift tent was very crowded during intermission, so I headed outside to stretch and relax. About 20 minutes later (30 minute break) I headed back inside to see what treats awaited us the second half.

During the intermission, they are setting up a huge spider web, this looks promising. Unfortunately except for shaking it, and maybe a couple people bouncing off of it, it is mainly just backdrop for the contortion act that takes place on "The Giant Twinkee" in the center of the stage.

One of the features of the second half is the slack wire act, it looks much like its cousin the tight rope act or high wire act, except as the name implies there is some slack in the wire. They start out walking back and forth across it, as the whole apparatus is going up and down. Then, they kick it up a few notches using some apparatus that looks like it came out of a Dr. Suess book to perform a handstand, ending up with, you guessed it, unicycle riding up and down the slack wire.

The second act also has, what I am convinced is, the required Diabolo exhibition. Don't get me wrong the performers are quite skilled in the art, eventually going from 1 diabolo to juggling 4 at a time, almost quite up to the rafters of the tent. They make it look all too easy. Did I mention they sell Diabolo's in the gift shop, yes they come in Cirque Du Soleil blue and yellow. In fact, I almost bought one, but didn't see spending $30 on a novelty that my totally unskilled hands would play with for all of 5 minutes, get frustrate with, and sit down, never to be touched again. This is, though, one of the times you realize you are not at Ringling Bros. as they would have gone for the full shameless merchandising plug at this point, maybe even to the point of having vendors walking the aisles. No, Cirque is was too tasteful to stoop to that level.

Sometime while you weren't watching, you start to realize the back wall of the set is starting to be peeled away. You get your first clue when a little door in the back wall opens, Muppet Show style, complete with a character appearing to get his hand caught in the small door when it closes.

Here the lights go out, and when they come back on, the center of the stage has been opened up to reveal the powertrack, and the back wall finally fully uncovered to reveal a climbing wall with a grid of handholds. In a version of KA lite, performers seem to jump onto, off of, and around this wall with little effort. Its obvious another large panel has slid open at the base of the wall exposing trampolines. This is the marquee high energy act for the second half.

The show then ends with a song and dance finale centered around a banquet table. Here each type of insect climbs up on the table one at a time, and after the first couple, the audience starts to realize these are the curtain calls. Wild applause commences, after that the band comes out, and the violinist gets a solo part, then the traditional curtain call bows with the cast lined up along the stage lights.

And just like that another Cirque Du Soleil show in the books. While we rate it lower than the two Vegas shows, we do rate it higher than the arena shows we have seen, and it might just get some "fresh in mind" points. Overall, we thought it was a great show. That said, I didn't really get the plot of the story, I got the theme of a celebration in the insect world, and that's all you really needed. In this show, its all about the fun of the thing, the high circus acts come first, with little incect overlay.

However, I must note, that one big question goes unanswered all through the show constant references are made to the egg or OVO. It is shown on stage several times, the clown characters say OVO a lot, heck it is even paraded through the audience, I kept expecting some kind of payoff to the setup, like what the egg was going to open and reveal, but there is no payoff to the constant build up and attention the show directs to the egg.

That said, I can't wait for my next Cirque experience!


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