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Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Cirque du Soleil's OVO or: How I learned to stop worrying and love roaches

If a group of cockroaches set up in the corner of my living room and began performing astounding feats of acrobatics I might indulge them a moment, were they as nimble as they are tricky to kill.

But then I'd have to kill them. I mean, they're (gag) cockroaches.

On the opening night of Cirque du Soleil's OVO, however, when a group of cockroaches set up under the yellow and blue big top to perform astounding feats of acrobatics, I refrained from grabbing the nearest flat, heavy object. In fact, I found myself silently cheering for the nasty things as they tempted death (or at least a bounce into the safety net) by flinging themselves from trapezes to the shoulders and palms of their partners about 100 or so feet above the stage.

OVO offers a glimpse into a world of busy-body little insects — these insects just happen to be master jugglers that can, say, touch their toes to the backs of their heads. One day a fly arrives, looking like he walked straight off the set of a Jean-Pierre Jeunet film. With big googly goggles for eyes and floppy flippers on his feet, he looks half mosquito, half deep sea diver. Strapped to his back with a tangle of rope is a giant egg. "Ovo!" he blurts to the suspicious group. The leader of the pack is a kind of neon beetle, who, uncertain of this stranger and his baggage, manages to snatch the egg away.

That's about where the narrative ends, and thank goodness. Sure there's a metaphor there for coming to terms with and (SPOILER ALERT) accepting The Other, but folks don't generally come to Cirque du Soleil for metaphorical slights of hand; they come for the in-your-face daredevil acrobatics.

What is Cirque du Soleil if not a platform for that .00000001 percent of the population with .00000001 percent body fat and an obscene amount of flexibility to perform physics-defying tricks? (While we skip the gym to drink beer and eat popcorn to watch them do it.)

In the first act, a sextet of cheery red ants scurries onto the stage with large slices of kiwi. The industrious bugs start off with a cute juggling act, rolling and tossing the rounds of fruit in a bit of snappy synchronized choreography. In a blink, the ants have paired off and taken to juggling each other. Like a series of last-minute Tetris moves, ants are flipped, twisted and tossed in a fast-paced tumbling series. A group of particularly limber lady fleas perform what we'll call here, "The wonders of being double-jointed." Act two includes the aforementioned cockroaches in an impressive trapeze act and a spectacular trampoline-meets-rock-wall finale starring the crickets.

  • Benoit Fontaine © 2009 Cirque du Soleil Inc.

Besides the impressive physicality of the performers, designer Liz Vandal's costumes make the show. The black widow brings to mind one of the Sentinels from the Matrix; the crickets' poky leg apparatus add another dimension to the set; and her cheeky ladybug pops like a piece of Bubblelicious come to life. My favorite, though, was the imaginary Creatura, a kind of faceless snuffleupagus with slinkies for legs that danced around as if one of David Bowie's subjects in the Labyrinth.

OVO does include the requisite Cirque du Soleil between set slapstick, but it's kept to a minimum and is, for once, decently entertaining. There are a few bizarre moments of bug spray huffing, and the fly's stiff-legged Jim Carey shtick tends to wear a little thin after a while, but overall OVO gives the audience what it came for, and has fun while doing it.

OVO runs through Dec. 19 at the Grand Chapiteau in Atlantic Station.

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The latest Cirque du Soleil incarnation, Ovo, comes to Atlanta. The show continues through Dec. 19 at Atlantic Station under the blue and yellow big top.

By Stephanie Pharr

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