OVO (Review)

Cirque du Soleil production is up and running at Old Coney

May 6, 2011 at 2:06 pm

When a performing arts organization achieves iconic status, it seems almost silly to attend a performance with the idea of writing a “review.” The whole premise of Cirque du Soleil — and each of its two dozen or so productions, including OVO, currently being presented at Old Coney, east of Cincinnati — is to offer flawless, dazzling and inventive entertainment. That’s what I’ve seen with each Cirque show I’ve experienced, and there was no disappointment with OVO, which I finally got to see on May 5, after almost two weeks of delay due to the swollen Ohio River which flooded some of the area where the tents and parking have been placed.

My first impression was that OVO’s concept — an ecosystem teaming with insects — was a little creepy. But the theme has more to do with the vibrancy and vitality of life than with “bugs,” and in fact the concept adds a visual dimension that seems to be endlessly creative — grasshoppers, ladybugs, butterflies, ants and so on. Cirque shows are known for their ornate and inventive costumes, and OVO has provide a remarkable palette for such creativity. The stage is further enhanced by two immense flowers that pivot into the performance space from the right and left and then unfold in floral glory.

“Ovo” is the Portuguese word for “egg,” and the evening opens with an immense egg consuming most of the stage under the “grand chapiteau” (that’s Cirque’s term for its “Big Top” tent, one of several structures — with a colorful yellow and blue exterior — that gets erected on the performance site). As the show begins, it’s replaced by several versions that are more portable, one that’s small and glowing and another that gets carted around on a strong performer’s back. The egg is an object of curiosity for all the players, perhaps signifying the cycles of their lives.

Like other Cirque shows I’ve seen, most of this is simply a kind of themed architecture on which to hang amazing — acrobats, tumblers, trapeze artists and contortionists. There is a loose story about an oddball fly-like insect who buzzes in and falls in love with a ladybug — and their road to romance has a few potholes but ends happily, thanks in part to some coaching from “Master Flipo,” the chief of the insect community. This tale provides interludes between the circus performances and includes occasional audience involvement. The clowns are very animated and clever. But most of OVO is about spectacle.

It’s the circus performers that most people will remember. Here’s a quick rundown of the program, two one-hour acts with an intermission of 30 minutes:

Hand Balancing: A performer dressed as a dragonfly slides around and balances — often his full weight on one hand — on metal tubing that represents an elegant plant.

Butterflies: A pair of performers use a rope — as well as incredible strength and balance — to swing and swoop over the audience.

Ants: Six petite women juggle oversized kiwi slices and corn with their feet. This sounds goofy, but it’s amazingly entertaining, especially when their foot juggling expands to tossing one another back and forth, as well as fruits and vegetables.

Diabolos: Spinning spools are juggled with a string, starting with one and working up to four simultaneously in motion.

Acrosport: Yellow and red fleas fling themselves through the air and come together in balanced formations.

Flying Act: This is one of the evening’s most stunning performances. A dozen performers — costumed as scarab beetles — work from three platforms high above the stage and leap from swinging trapezes to a central platform. The acrobatic skill and strength required is breathtaking.

Web: A contortionist — dressed as a spider — attracts the attention of the grasshoppers.

Creatura: Described as “part Slinky, part insect” it’s a little hard to figure out what’s going on, but it’s humorous to watch. Is it just one person or more with limbs in constant motion.

Slack Wire: You’ve heard of a tight rope, I suspect. This act use a rope that hangs loosely between two posts, traversed by a performer who must balance on his feet and eventually using a unicycle. The wire swings and moves up and down to increase the difficulty of the task.

Wall: For me, this is OVO’s most spectacular component, a finale featuring 20 performers who run, jump and climb across an 8-meter vertical wall with handholds (like a climbing wall). They use two power track trampolines to give them speed, lift and momentum — and often appear to take flight. The choreography of this large group was stunning.

One doesn’t go to a Cirque du Soleil show for profound thought: It’s more about being dazzled by the physical capabilities of performers who are so disciplined that they do remarkable things effortlessly and never appear to strain or become weary. The tales are simple, about the wonder of life and the beauty of the human form and world in which it exists. In a word (let’s make it a French word, since this is Cirque du Soleil): Incroyable.

Cirque du Soleil’s OVO continues at Old Coney through May 15. Performances are at 8 p.m. on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and 4 and 8 p.m. on Thursdays through Saturdays. A performance has been added for 8 p.m. Tuesday, May 10. There is no show Monday, May 9. Buy tickets, check out performance times and get venue details here.