The first thing you notice when you walk into the tent to see OVO, Cirque du Soleil’s latest production, is the smell. It’s hard to pin down. Sharp, slightly fetid, with an ineffable sort of thickness about it. Then the sounds: crickets, the swoosh of wind gusting through treetops, wings flapping. As the seats begin to fill, a beekeeper or two (at least, we think that’s what they were) wander the aisles, tending the paper butterflies that flutter from the ends of the poles they carry through the crowd.
Welcome (back) to the weird and wonderful world of Cirque du Soleil.
On stage: an egg. Big. Enormous. Then—pouf!—the lights go out and come back on again, and the egg is nowhere to be seen. In its place is an earthy, dandelion-strewn, bug-infested scene.
Fortunately the bugs are friendly, and also capable of breathtaking feats. One part Disney fantasia, one part French cabaret, and one part jaw-dropping circus performance, OVO is set in a colourful, teeming world inhabited by ladybugs, ants, scarabs, and spiders. Unlike many other Cirque productions, this one has little by way of a narrative—the sets and costumes establish an overarching aesthetic and induce the requisite sense of wonder and dislocation, but there is no nuanced story that unfolds over the course of the show. (The insects’ fascination with the egg that has landed in their midst and a fly’s love affair with a ladybug serve as OVO‘s only real plot points.) The atmosphere is the thing: playful, adventurous, with enough dark edges to keep from getting cutesy, and enough humour to break the tension of watching humans doing impossible-seeming things while suspended twenty feet in the air.
[Imagine doing a one-armed handstand. Now imagine doing a one-armed handstand while holding onto a rope instead of pressing your palm against the ground. And that the rope is strung loosely (so it is not taut but slack) between two poles. Suspended a few feet off the ground. Now imagine that someone slowly raises this rope-and-pole contraption fifteen feet high, while you are still holding onto it and doing this one-armed handstand. And that’s all before intermission.]
There are artists and athletes who leave us delighted, whose accomplishments we revere and daydream, hopelessly, of equalling. And then there are those who expand our very conception of the human, who explode the constraints that we think govern what a person can do. One of the things Cirque du Soleil has always done best is play with this notion of the possible, and one of its greatest artistic accomplishments is continually confounding an audience’s sense that it knows when the limits of possibility have been reached. You think it can’t get any more intense, and yet somehow it always does.
OVO will be performed under the Grand Chapiteau at the Port Lands on Cherry Street until November 1.
Photos by Miles Storey/Torontoist.