The Academy Awards have a rival for pride of place at the Kodak Theater, where “Iris,” Cirque du Soleil’s movie-inspired spectacular, should be sitting down comfortably for the foreseeable future. Both lavish and intimate, imbued with genuine love of cinema and powered by a hard-driving Danny Elfman score, “Iris” instantly vaults onto the list of must-see Hollywood attractions.
The usual Cirque tropes, summed up by the overhead motto “In Motion We Trust,” are very much in evidence in the thrilling trapeze and bungee artistry, and the bone-aching contortionists, hoop riders and gymnasts.
Thanks to Elfman, the accompaniment is much less New Age-y than usual, more percussive and flavored with cinemaccents inspired by Bernard Herrmann, Miklos Rozsa and Leonard Bernstein, not to mention the composer’s own “Edward Scissorhands.”
There’s also the usual Cirque linking thread of journey or search, this time a porkpie-hatted tumbler-composer called “Buster” (Raphael Cruz) who literally falls heels over head for aspiring starlet “Scarlett,” incarnated by Alice Dufour and Olga Pikhienko as unpossessable floating angel.
But the true romance of “Iris” is to be found in the interplay between live performance and the camera, a reflection of our best movie memories when we’ve gazed up spellbound while scarfing down popcorn.
Writer-helmer Philippe Decoufle pays explicit tribute to the bygone past by having designer Jean Rabasse dress the Kodak as a 1900s Grand Guignol cabaret, with ubiquitous moving props from Anne-Seguin Poirier dating back to the Griffith and Melies days.
Most of act one is played against screens offering interesting shadow-puppet counterpoint. A highlight is seeing the antics of four leaping acrobats picked up frame-by-frame behind them, like an early Edison motion-capture experiment.
Movie iconography abounds. Allusions from “Royal Wedding” and “Psycho” to “The Lion King” and “WALL-E” are all subtly inserted, affectionate rather than tacky.
Cirque’s patented distracting, head-scratching Dada imagery – the guy sporting a giant whip as a hat, for instance – is kept to a minimum. Better still, the clowns of “Iris” are actually funny, both in their audience preshow byplay (gals treading the aisles in spinning Kinetoscope tutus, or with little movies projected on their torsos) and during an Oscar-ceremony spoof, featuring an audience volunteer as special guest recipient.
Act two really gets down to business – the contempo movie business, that is, on a sound stage set up as Skull Island in “King Kong.” Threescore dancers, wardrobe workers, sweepers, grips doing flips off teeter-totters and trapeze artists act out a studio head’s wet dream of how busy his employees ought to be on the lot.
The showpiece marries circus and cinema in a tribute to film noir, opening with sliding panels and elevators offering peeks into the urban jungle (paging “Rear Window”). Then comes an extended Jerome Robbins-inspired, four-stories-high chase sequence for which the rooftops have been replaced by trampolines. Naturally there’s a happy ending as intrepid Buster gets the girl.
If you have enough moxie left for the glittering finale, here’s a movie cliche to remember: Keep watching the skies.