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A Bug’s Life: Cirque du Soleil’s Ovo

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A Bug’s Life: Cirque du Soleil’s <em>Ovo</em>

Ovo, the latest offering from Cirque du Soleil, is at its core a romantic comedy of errors between two bugs who are separately so annoying that they must deserve each other because certainly no one in the audience does, especially after paying the kind of money that a Cirque ticket goes for these days. Unfortunately, it’s a narrative torture that we must begrudgingly endure as the price for enjoying the troop’s typically high level of acrobatic ability during the more episodic showcases.

Ovo features various insects reacting to the presence of a big egg, and I guess it symbolizes the circularity of the life cycle, but it doesn’t end up mattering because center stage is reserved for the gymnasts and acrobats themselves in interludes, between episodes of the ongoing storyline, designed specifically to showcase their unique abilities. There’s an insanely limber guy who holds a one-armed handstand and then jumps to the other arm, all on a tiny rotating piece of wood; a grinning goofball riding a unicycle on a tightrope; a group of girls (ants?) who balance and twirl large objects on their legs while tossing each other into flips and twists; guys dressed as grasshoppers (or something) jumping off of a rock wall onto a trampoline and a tumble track, flipping endlessly toward the audience; simply one of the most amazing trapeze shows I’ve ever seen; and, needless to say, a bunch of other mind-boggling stuff.

I was once a gymnast with decent chances of ending up as one of these acrobats and now here I am writing about the show rather than performing in it, and something about that is a testament to the fleeting wonder of the performing arts in general. The other night I watched the acrobats of Ovo perform double twisting double layouts and double fronts with half twists and part of me wanted them to make some sort of small mistake so that I’d be able to say, “I can do that better than they can,” even though I can’t, not anymore. But in the end, the few mistakes occurring amid the gravity-defying craziness only served to illustrate just how beautifully close to disaster these performances always are. It’s ultimately a fight against time; for that one brief moment we can land that triple back flip, and then suddenly we can’t anymore. Participating in an act of this caliber, requiring such an absurdly demanding level of precision, is nothing short of an act of defiance, and witnessing the height of a performer’s abilities is something not to be missed—even if you have to spend some of the time between acrobatic showcases groaning while frenetic actors buzz and strut around on stage in absurd outfits, pretending like they aren’t just as embarrassed for themselves as you are.

Richard Larson is a fiction writer and graduate student at NYU. He blogs at the Richard Larson blog.