Cirque du Soleil celebrates its 25th anniversary June 16, and if anyone thinks the Montreal-based behemoth is planning to simply rest on its laurels, they ought to check out the company’s latest touring show, “Ovo,” to prove that’s not the case. While keeping the same basic ingredients that have driven Cirque shows for the past quarter-century (circus acts, colorful staging, minimal concept), “Ovo” branches out in several fairly bold directions, which — while not always successful — are a clear sign of an organization willing to challenge the status quo.
Deborah Colker helms this production, and although much has been made of the fact that she’s the first woman to direct a Cirque show, what’s more important is the fact that her roots are in dance; she is above all a choreographer.
“Ovo” moves with an artistic totality and seamless fluidity many earlier Cirque productions lack. There’s almost no boring comedy and hardly any sequences in which gratuitous variety acts seem shoehorned into the action.
In fact, if there’s one criticism to be offered, it’s that there’s too little “cirque” in this newest Cirque du Soleil entry. Dance is king, and while it helps everything look appealing and move smoothly, we’re not that far removed from a Bob Fosse piece like “Dancin’.”
Eric Champoux’s lighting is boldly colored, as are Liz Vandal’s costumes, both repping a welcome change from the pastel world of Cirque’s past. And the music of Berna Ceppas throbs with a Latin vitality that’s as strange as it is welcome.
But in the end, there’s one problem. Colker doesn’t really seem to have a concept. The show is about the insect world, but to take us further than “A Bug’s Life,” we need something more than external glitz to anchor us to the story. In throwing out a lot of the dated aspects of Cirque, Colker and her colleagues have also lost one important feature: All the older shows were actually about something.
“Ovo” is as slick, elegant and pleasing as a circus-styled entertainment can get, but underneath, as Gertrude Stein once said of Oakland, Calif., “There’s no there there.” A change of style is great, but Cirque has to learn not to lose its substance as well.