Notes and Notices

On art, architecture and design


Now open: Cirque du Soleil's Iris

Posted by Carren Jao Pineda |

A few months ago, I got chance to preview Cirque du Soleil's "Iris," a self-proclaimed "poetic phantasmagoria inspired by the world of cinema." Last week, I finally saw the finished product.

A full shot of the stage. Carren Jao © 2011 .
As can be expected, "Iris" doesn't disappoint. I have had my share of acrobatic feats (most memorably in China, the land of contortionists), but Cirque du Soleil's trademark focus on artistry helped inch them above my previous encounters with theatrical circus acts. More than simple show of physicality, "Iris" tugs at the heartstrings with a classic boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl, boy-chases-after-girl plotline, but this time set in the freewheeling days of early cinema.

Before the previews, many of the audience were entertained (or accosted) by the show's comedic reliefs. This redhead in particular made her way up to the Mezzanine and wrangled her bootylicious way to the middle of the audience row to give someone her number. Forward isn't she? For the audience seated on the balcony area, it was nice to be forgotten.

That's her giving her number to one lucky guy and flashing some major booty. Carren Jao © 2011.
Praxinoscope was also a scene stealer with her zoetrope of a skirt. Watch it whirl and light up with animation. Mark DeLong © Cirque du Soleil
But back to the show. Though not a faithful historical rendering of cinematic history, "Iris" ingenuously plays with light and shadow along the way. Back projections create shadow play, that we've all done with a flashlight and a darkened room, only they do it with so much more finesse.

Projections. Matt Beard © 2011 Cirque du Soleil
Shadows play in the huge wall behind the actors (making this show a must-watch even if you can't spring for the uber-expensive seats). A delayed motion capture is also used to great effect during a hand to hand sequence. It was as if I were watching an 80s Olympics commercial (you know, where they show a trail behind a gymnast.)

A trail of images during hand to hand. Matt Beard © 2011 Cirque du Soleil.
There were also frequent nods to cinematic magic, such as this film strip sequence, where the performers recreated an animation cell by cell. 

Film strip seen live! Matt Beard © 2011 Cirque du Soleil.
At other times, large projections of the characters on stage were shown on the background, the theatrical equivalent of a cinema close-up, I suppose.

No one will miss a thing during Scarlet's hand balancing. Matt Beard © 2011 Cirque du Soleil.
Of course, "Iris" wouldn't be a Cirque show without the circus performances. There were monumental scenes that were just an extravaganza of physicality everywhere you look. There was a chaos of the movie set recreated and enlivened by trapeze acts and trampolines.

A crazy movie set scene.  Matt Beard © 2011 Cirque du Soleil.
But there were also more intimate scenes, such as the broom manipulation out in the first scene. Somehow, seeing Buster (the lead male) reminded me of the Sorcerer's Apprentice, when Mickey was still vainly trying to get his own broom under control.

This might actually one of my favorite scenes. Broom manipulation. Matt Beard © 2011 Cirque du Soleil.
There was a lot to take in at the Cirque show and two and a half hours went by quickly. I must say though, there is a limit to how much wonder one can take in at a time and "Iris" knew just when to stop. See "Iris" is running at the Kodak Theatre from now...well... until almost forever actually, so I can't say you have to hurry. Watch it when you're in need of a little inspiration. Tickets here.


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