Having proven triumphant in the field of sit-down installations and long-running big-top tours, Cirque du Soleil has decided to try one more method of maximizing its audiences by tackling the lucrative, notoriously difficult large-scale arena market with “Delirium.” Cirque’s latest show ventures into the territory usually occupied by rock superstars — playing in venues of 12,000-25,000 capacity for only a few nights per city. If the wildly enthusiastic reception during its Montreal premiere is any indication, it’s off to a winning start.
Cirque is partnering with Live Nation (formerly known as Clear Channel Entertainment), which certainly knows its way around the arena market; the combination of the Canadian group’s artistic skill with the American conglom’s business savvy should prove unbeatable.
If the only change was the size of house Cirque was playing, a show like “Delirium” wouldn’t warrant much notice. But Cirque is reinventing itself for this new market, with stimulating results.
Instead of the three-quarter-round format the company has usually employed, the new venture borrows a page from Cirque’s last touring show, “Corteo,” dividing the arena so that the two halves of the audience face each other across the stage.
This 130-foot playing area is also honeycombed with traps and flying rigs so that actors can materialize from the depths or float in from the wings as the action demands. This takes two specially designed bridges, capable of holding 130,000 pounds of equipment, including the 27 motors necessary to allow the required fluidity of movement.
There’s also an enormous reliance on multimedia that surpasses anything Cirque has done before. There are 540 feet of projections surfaces — the equivalent of four Imax screens — and 30 super-intensity projectors capable of flashing thousands of images.
Music also takes a more central role than ever before. Cirque has always had original scores, but they tended to exist as classy background music with odd bits of vocalization attached. Now, 20 of the most memorable melodies from various Cirque shows over the years have been rearranged into a driving world-music beat by Francis Collard and given lyrics by Robbie Dillon.
The musicians are anchored by the Brazilian band Gaia, assisted by numerous percussionists who make the place shake with their beat.
It’s a far edgier, more urban show than anything Cirque has presented before. The usual tenuous plot that links things together deals with a lost soul floating through the air, looking for human contact, while a sinister man on stilts below deals with the shallow, driving pulse of the world.
There are some stunning displays of acrobatic skill, but they all seem more closely woven into the narrative line; the frequent feeling that Cirque could be a giant new age “Ed Sullivan Show” has finally vanished. This change also is attributable to the absence of clowns, whose buffoonery would be lost in such a high-energy, high-tech spectacular.
The Cirque show itself runs about 100 minutes with no intermission. In Montreal, vocalist Nitza (who comes across like Eva Longoria channeling Enya) opened with a 20-minute set, followed by an intermission. While similar opening acts are planned in other cities, this feels unnecessary.
“Delirium” packs enough of an entertainment punch on its own. No audience should feel cheated by the bounty of this bold new look for Cirque du Soleil.