Cirque du Soleil's ‘Ovo' will bug you, but in a good way
"Ovo," which opened Friday at the Santa Monica Pier, is the show for those who like their Cirque du Soleil Old School.
I hear mild grumbles all the time from the traditionalists. Sure, "Iris," Cirque's $120-million valentine to Hollywood at the Kodak Theatre, is a bona fide spectacle, and Cirque's new Michael Jackson arena show will blow the top of your head off.
But what hooked a lot of us on the Quebecois circus when it began coming to California 25 years ago was its more intimate, quirky qualities. Each of its productions presented an exotic universe peopled by strange beings who didn't just perform but interacted with us. Cirque's shows created a new compact with audiences: we will amaze you but mingle with you, too.
"Ovo," which debuted in Montreal back in 2009, is that kind of show. Written, conceived and directed by respected Brazilian artist Deborah Colker, it's remarkably straightforward for a Cirque du Soleil show – the result, I suspect, of a desire to make it especially appealing to younger children.
"Ovo" is all about bugs. What could be more kid-friendly than that?
Ovo is Portuguese for egg, and that's the first image you see when you enter the company's big but cozy tent: a huge, million-yolk monster sitting in the center of the stage.
Then the magic begins. The lights go down briefly. The gigantic egg disappears. We're introduced to the denizens of the Ovo world: a colorful menagerie of ants, grasshoppers, spiders, fleas and other less identifiable six-legged creatures. (Liz Vandal's costumes are imaginative and full of surprises.)
The story, such as it is, unfolds courtesy of a few main characters. There's a cheerful, roly-poly lady bug (Michelle Matlock) who catches the compound eye of an egg-toting male bug who's new to these parts (Barthélémy Glumineau).
The foreigner is first rejected then reluctantly taken in by the locals, who are supervised, more or less, by Master Flipo (Joseph Collard), an officious but well-meaning insect whose antenna are always quivering in mirth, rage or indignation.
The foreigner's love for the lady bug looks like an impossible dream (could they even produce offspring)? But Flipo, touched by his ardor, coaches him (with the audience's help) in the fine art of seducing a lady bug.
Meanwhile, there are the usual Cirque acts, artfully dressed by Vandal to look like bugs of various kinds.
Volodymyr Hrynchenko does some eye-popping one-hand balances atop a spiral contraption. Some foot-juggling ants play with their food in ways that every kid would envy. Silk aerialist Nadine Louis and a Russian duo that swings together on straps, Svitlana Kashevarova and Dmytro Orel, perform a routine that's as choreographically pleasing as it is athletic.
Every Cirque du Soleil show has its sweaty-palm moments. "Ovo" has several.
At the end of the first act, a flying team called the Scarabs Volant performs spectacular trapeze tricks.
In the second act, a group of energetic crickets bounces effortlessly from trampolines to high perches in a routine called "Trampo-wall."
Slackwire specialist Li Wei steals the evening, balancing on one hand, then on a pole and, finally, upside down on a tricycle. He got the show's only mid-performance standing ovation.
Other acts are less high energy but just as mesmerizing.
Contortionists Ganchimeg Oyunchimeg, Robyn Houpt and Nadine Louis turn into spiders that sinuously dance around their web-ensnared prey.
A quintet of legs pops out of the stage floor, creating a school of lively, hairy worms.
"Ovo" features a large and colorful band that plays a wonderfully varied and atmospheric score by Berna Ceppas. Marie-Claude Marchand sings enchantingly in a strange foreign language (most of the words in the show are either nonsense or a fractured vernacular that could be called Bug-lish).
My only beef with "Ovo": what about that missing egg that Glumineau's character keeps looking for? It's a bit of a red herring; it never returns, and the story marches on without it.
No matter. Kids will love the characters. Adults will admire Vandal's costumes and Gringo Cardia's tropical set, which includes giant flowers that slowly unfurl. And everyone's palms will sweat when the high-wire acts try to convince us that these bugs really can fly.
Where: Santa Monica Pier
When: Jan. 20-Feb. 26. 8 p.m. Tuesdays-Fridays, 4 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 1 and 5 p.m. Sundays. Also 4 p.m. Feb. 3, 10, 17, 24.
How much: $31.50-$158.50
Length: 2 hours, 30 minutes
Suitability: All ages
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