Longtime observers of Cirque du Soleil should be aware of two things by now: The show that the organization originally announces often bears little resemblance to the one it eventually delivers, and the quality of the project is closely related to the expertise of the director involved. So it’s no surprise that “Zed,” Cirque du Soleil’s first permanent Japanese show, which opened in Tokyo Oct. 1, only bears fleeting resemblances to the Tarot-card work first put on the agenda. A few strong visual images from that mystical deck are in evidence, but anyone fearing an entire evening of fortune-teller mumbo-jumbo can set his mind at ease.
The second important factor is the presence of Francois Girard as author-director of the piece. Girard is best known for his movies like “32 Short Films About Glenn Gould,” “The Red Violin” and “Silk,” but also has staged operas for the Canadian Opera Company.
He brings a sense of unified artistic vision to “Zed” that is stronger than that of any Cirque show since the legendary underwater spectacle “O” opened at the Bellagio in 1995. In fact, with most of the acts in “Zed” being of the aerial variety, you might say this show does for air what “O” did for water: People will be marveling over it for years to come.
Although none of the acts are that breathtaking in and of themselves (with the exception of one final sequence where 10 artists share four trapezes in a dizzying array that defies description), Girard has unified all the components with an artistry that is the show’s real secret.
More than any other Cirque show in recent memory, this one moves with a seamless grace that makes it seem like an organic piece of theater and not just a series of giant variety acts waiting for an Ed Sullivan to tie them all together.
Various hydraulic lifts under the stage move characters in and out, sweeping galleries along the back wall allow visions to appear and disappear with ease, and the musicians and vocalists — too often hidden away in Cirque shows — are placed front and center, where they give full value to Rene Dupere’s sweetly haunting score.
At the center of it all is a wide-eyed, white-maned harlequin named Zed, played with energy and innocence by Reda Guerinik. For once, we actually share in the wonder of his journey instead of feeling he’s merely a device to glue the scenes together.
Girard’s ultimate coup de theatre occurs in the finale, when he slowly introduces every character, every element of the show in a swirling pattern that is dazzling. Look how much you’ve seen, he seems to be saying; look how much life contains.
“Zed” is not the biggest or most spectacular show in Cirque’s long history, but it very well may be the most magical.