It’s safe to say that there never has been a more visually spectacular piece of theater than “KA,” the latest show from Cirque du Soleil, which brings the company’s productions in Las Vegas to four and its worldwide total to 10. With helmer Robert Lepage in control, “KA” features an actual narrative –something different for Cirque. Still, there are enough familiar elements to make the franchise’s customers content and the whole thing is conceived and executed at such a level of daring that it’s a no-brainer to add this to the lengthy list of Cirque triumphs.
The title is taken from the Egyptian word used to describe the “spiritual double” that follows each human being during their journey through life. Lepage has attached it to a story about a pair of royal twins (brother and sister), separated when a revolution rips the kingdom apart.
In true epic tradition, the twins travel the globe, struggling against the elements of earth, air, fire and water before finally being reunited. No recognizable words are spoken, although there are bursts of sound in an invented language. Still, it’s easy to follow the broad brushstrokes with which Lepage paints his story.
The visual element is the most important feature here and the show’s major achievement is that it keeps topping itself with ever more breathtaking sequences at every turn.
Lepage and designer Mark Fisher have ripped out the entire stage from the theater, leaving the 120 foot proscenium arch wide open, with no floor of any kind. An astonishing series of moving stages emerge from the depths of the theater and rotate to reveal everything from boats to mountains.
Actors climb perpendicular slopes at stomach-churning angles and hurl themselves into space with a bravura that causes the entire audience to gasp in unison.
Lepage doesn’t set his piece in any realistic country, but in an imaginary landscape which borrows freely from many global influences. Sumerian archers, Chinese acrobats and Japanese shadow puppets exist side by side in the vivid costume designs of Marie-Chantal Vaillancourt, which use red as a unifying factor.
Another stunning feature are the giant puppets of Michael Curry, including a pair of acrobatic crabs and a 90-foot long coral snake. The music of Rene Dupere is another big plus, combining live musicians with impressive sampled sound to create a rich soundtrack that lives up to the overarching eye-candy on display.
If pressed to single out one sequence as being the most amazing, it would have to be “The Flight,” in which a tribe of primitive mountain dwellers transforms its tent into a giant flying bird which swoops and circles over the audience, over 50 feet in the air, while holding a dozen performers.
Every detail of the production is handled with skill. Interactive video projections create stunning textures, twin speakers in each seat in the auditorium ensure superb sound quality and the virtuoso acrobatic work of the company reaches a peak in the climactic “Wheel of Death” sequence, where the Alegria Brothers test themselves against a series of metal cages that spin with ever-increasing ferocity over a pit of fire.
If there’s one minor criticism, it’s that human emotion is strangely absent. The sheer size and scope of the project manages to swallow up any feeling we might have for the characters. But when faced with a series of fantastic stage effects unlike anything ever seen in a live performance, it’s a small price to pay.
“KA” should be around to dazzle delighted audiences for years to come. “Bigger is better” is the Las Vegas mantra and shows just don’t come any bigger (or better) than this.