If you’ve battled insects in the garden or are just plain squeamish, the idea of a family-evening of entertainment centered on bugs might not be so appealing. Sure, a few animations have tried to sell us on ants (“An Ant Story”), bees and even cockroaches (“WALL-E”) as cute and VW, the Beatles and the Egyptians sold us on beetles. So now Cirque du Soleil? Created three years ago, “Ovo” is about bugs, but not in the threatening or physically dirty sort of way. These bugs are fantastical, funny and lovable and have a love story to tell.
“Ovo” is from the Portuguese word for “egg” and that’s how the journey begins. A day begins with the bugs waking up. A dragonfly is represented by a hand balancing act (Volodymur Hrunchenko)–his legs are the transparent wings and he slides and rides on a curious curl of metal with a small platform at the top.
A city bug, a foreigner (Barthélémy Glumineau), comes into a community. And he has an egg, a precious thing in the bug world (as we were told in the post-show talk). The acts will not always be the same, but the story remains that of this foreign bug attempting to get back his egg as he falls in love with a Lady Bug (Michelle Matlock).
Connoisseurs of Cirque may find this show second string. The person sitting next to us did. He had seen it all before. Are we becoming jaded? This is a circus and there are expectations, but perhaps it’s better if we come in without any. Is there anything second string about Cirque? Sometimes I think people don’t appreciate the difficulty of the disciplines we see.
As a big fan of cute, I loved the foot juggling who are dressed as red ants (Cheng Jinna, Dong Mimi, Han Jing, Su Shan, Wang Shaohua and Zhu Bayou). What they juggle are pieces of food such as slices of kiwi. Oh, what I wouldn’t give to have one of those costumes or even some foot juggling lessons.
There’s a moving concept of a cocoon using aerial silk (Nadine Louis). The lighting will be too direct for some seats, partially blinding some audience members to the movement. From there, as would seem logical we move to the butterflies (Svitlana Kashevarova and Kmytro Orel performing strap), but the costumes really say moth. You don’t have to be a fan of Mothera to know there’s a difference. The movement may not awe you, but the suspension is also difficult although it may be harder for some to appreciate.
Yo yo lovers can appreciate the firefly diabolo act with Tony Frebourg ending his piece with four of those spinning little objects on his fast-moving string. Don’t try this at home kids because he throws his pieces up higher than your house ceiling.
For fun, there’s this slinky, rolling creature (performed by Lee Brearley) that looks like it has no head nor tail, but just limbs that lengthen and shorten. For intermission, you need something sensational and that’s the flying act. Who doesn’t love flying scarabs?
After intermission, they roll out the spiders (contortionists Ganchimeg Oyunchimeg, Robyn Houpt and Nadine Louis). These spiders aren’t scary though they do catch the grasshoppers in their nets. This is part of the problem. Ickiness is part of live and insects can be icky, seem evil (don’t giant spiders always seem scary), but this insect-centric show avoids creating an atmosphere of fear or horror.
When the fleas come out in those wonderfully geometric red and yellow unitards, the music says sexy Latin, but the choreography never goes there and doesn’t feel the music. Choreographer (writer and director) Deborah Colker doesn’t always match the movement to the music. With acrobats of this caliber, you’d want to see some crew movements that equal the best out there so in some ways the choreography and connecting movements and transitions lack the awe-inspiring quality that would lift this production two levels and give you the feeling of a living, breathing singular organism of a community. The artists that come together are from different cultures and different disciplines and some of this is readily evident in the movement and finishing touches.
The second act includes another spider act, and this spiderman isn’t out to save the world from villains and he’s not dressed in red. On a slackwire that can be raised, Li Wei balances, prances and even rides the unicycle the hard way. I can’t even do it the easy way on the ground.
If you’re a leg man, the legs piece will be flirty in a fuzzy, wormy way. Then the stage transforms into a length of trampolines with the crickets jumping and dancing on the trampolines and a climbing wall.
The show runs a little long. It could be tightened in some areas, but when the night ends with a flurry of butterflies how that’s a minor point. At the end, I still wish I had run away to join this circus when I was younger. Since it’s too late for that, all I can do is watch and enjoy.
Since its world-premiere in Montreal in 2009, OVO has charmed well-over 2 million spectators in over 15 different cities in North America. Santa Monica will be the only Southern California stop for a Grand Chapiteau (Big Top) production in 2012.
Tickets all performances are now available online at cirquedusoleil.com/ovo or at the Cirque du Soleil Box office located inside the main entrance tent of the Grand Chapiteau at the Santa Monica Pier. Regular box office hours will be 12:00 p.m. – end of show Tuesday through Saturday; 11:00 a.m. – end of show on Sunday and will be closed on all Monday’s and the following Tuesdays: February 7th, February 28th & March 20th.