NEW YORK — Two major forces from different sides of the performing arts spectrum in Quebec are pairing up for the first time. As part of a major expansion of its presence in Las Vegas, new-age circus producer Cirque du Soleil has hired director Robert Lepage to create a new show that will premiere at the MGM Grand Hotel in 2004.
Lepage is well known in the theater world for elaborate productions such as “Far Side of the Moon,” “The Seven Streams of the River Ota” and “Elsinore,” but he remains relatively unknown in mainstream circles.
This and several other current projects, however, could well increase his international profile: He is directing Peter Gabriel’s next world concert tour and recently collaborated with Gabriel on a “technological cabaret,” “Zulu Time,” which premiered in Montreal in June after its planned September 2001 New York opening was canceled in the wake of the terrorist attacks.
The as-yet-unnamed new piece for Cirque du Soleil will “shake the spectator’s perception of space, conception of the law of gravity, and comprehension of the world in three dimensions,” according to Cirque representatives, who cite the multimedia, multidisciplinary quality of Lepage’s work as central to their interest in working with him.
The show will become one of four permanent Cirque shows in Las Vegas, all of which are produced in partnership with MGM Mirage: “Mystere” (which opened at Treasure Island in 1993), “O” (Bellagio, 1998), and a new show for New York-New York, directed by Frenchman Philippe Decoufle, which will open in 2003.
The Lepage-Peter Gabriel connection dates back to 1993, when Lepage staged the recording artist’s “Secret World” tour shows. For Lepage, however, the roots go deeper: He credits his teenage viewing of Genesis concerts as one of the primary inspirations for his career in the performing arts.
This new world tour comes on the back of the Sept. 24 release of “Up,” Gabriel’s first studio album since 1992; Gabriel’s reps say the tour is likely to start in November, but no more details are available.
Gabriel’s company, Real World, and Lepage’s Quebec City-based nonprofit Ex Machina were the co-producers of “Zulu Time,” which played June 21-July 14 at Montreal’s Usine C after earlier developmental runs in Zurich and Paris (1999) and Quebec City (2000).
The premiere of the finished version was supposed to open in late September 2001 as part of the Quebec/New York multi-arts festival.
The Montreal run of “Zulu Time” played to mixed reviews, with critics praising the show’s sophisticated and elaborate staging but resisting its nonlinear form: It’s a series of vignettes, musical numbers, and bits of video art played on a huge metal scaffolding representing an airport. One of its sections features an Islamic terrorist blowing up a plane — content that Lepage says pre-dates the 9/11 disaster and that the company decided to leave in despite (or perhaps because of) its increased relevance.
“Zulu Time’s” Montreal run was not without its hitches: The company lost several days of rehearsals and opened two days late because of a cast member’s injury.
According to Ex Machina producer Michel Bernatchez, it still has room to grow: “It’s my feeling that the show still needed work, and I think that feeling was shared.”
Ex Machina is looking for presenting partners for future runs in the U.S., Europe and English-speaking Canada. The Montreal run of “Zulu Time” cost C$500,000 ($324,500); it is the most expensive production Ex Machina has ever staged.