If you showed up wanting to see the circus, you might have been disappointed. Otherwise, you were in for a hell of a show.
World-renowned Cirque du Soleil is again touring the country, and the spectacle is as overwhelming as it’s ever been, but this time it’s not about the acrobats. Creator Guy Laliberte’s vision for this outing is a musical one, an audio-visual showcase for the best music to come out of his traveling carnival. The show’s name is also its theme, its mission statement and its driving force: “Delirium.”
The show depicts a man’s search for harmony and balance in a world becoming increasingly unbalanced and fragmented, out of touch. Floating through a series of surreal musical and visual tableaux, he searches for a way to (both literally and metaphorically) touch solid ground again, to return to the earth. On his journey he encounters flood and fire, love and loss, death and rebirth, and the audience is swept along with him.
It’s difficult to describe the scale of this enterprise, or the complex (at times, even chaotic) interplay between music, light, live action, multimedia, gigantic set pieces, and nearly enough projection screen area to fill four IMAX theaters. From time to time, giant tulle sheets are stretched in front of the stage and used as screens to create moving backgrounds and foregrounds that envelope the players and submerge them into live-action, virtual worlds. In fact, everything in the arena is a canvas to be painted on, even the audience itself. Lights flash, images flicker, the music rises, and worlds are created.
That interplay is precisely what makes “Delirium” work as well as it does — not only does it combine to create instant, moving sets and play with all of the available space, but it also disorients the viewer, confuses and overloads the senses until it is at times difficult to tell what is real and what is not, what is on the screen and what is living in the screen. There are moments when it seems that there are seven things happening simultaneously on and around the stage, trying to pull the eye in seven directions at once, flashing scenes now inspiring, now comforting, now joyous, now jarring and disturbing. Sort of like life, actually, life with 24-hour television and the Internet and war and famine and a new happening every day, updated by the hour, but here it is infused with art and color and dream-logic and triumph. It is a world that you will be reluctant to leave.
The music itself is an updated, “urban tribal” remix of the best music of Cirque du Soleil’s previous shows, a melange of jazz, Latin, African tribal, Eastern European and other “world music” influences, as one would expect from such an international production. In place of pure instrumental pieces and previous “invented language” lyrics, the songs all have new lyrics in English, French, Spanish, Wolof and Portuguese. Much of it is music intended to create mood, music written to complement visual spectacle, and in this it succeeds very well, though there are a few standout songs that work well as singles in their own right.
And fear not, there are indeed acrobats and other assorted feats of strength, aerial grace and dear-God-that-looks-painful flexibility that will most assuredly delight you. This is Cirque du Soleil, after all, and they would be remiss to leave out the “Cirque” part of the equation. Tumbling, hand-balancing, juggling — you name it, though these performances are but one facet of the show, not shoved front and center as they are in the usual Cirque performances.
This time, the play’s the thing. And quite a delightful, delirious thing it is.