They’re the epitomy of what can be achieved through perfecting one's physical self through training. They are capable of astonishing feats beyond what most people can do. They wear colorful, often skintight costumes that usually conceal their faces and very identities. No, they’re not super-heroes, but they’re the closest physical representations of super-heroes that you’ll probably ever see. No movie has ever come closer, because what these people do is REAL.
As a rule, I’m not terribly fond of traditional circuses. They’re noisy and gaudy, and their treatment of animals is questionable at best. However, I am a longtime fan of the performers of Cirque du Soleil. For anyone who’s never seen Cirque performers, many ARE very close, visually, to super-heroes (and villains). Very, very close. I’ve always thought that if artists ever needed live models to accurately portray what men and women are capable of doing in super-hero comics, they need look no further than Cirque du Soleil.
Cirque shows utilize a lot of traditional, professional circus performers in their acts (and they don't use animals in their acts). But they also employ former Olympic gymnasts, and then push them to go beyond anything the Olympics would ever demand of them. I remember once seeing an interview with a Cirque acrobat who said training for the Olympics was a breeze compared to working for Cirque -- but he wouldn’t trade his experience with Cirque for anything.
Wanna see exactly what an acrobatic super-hero should be able to do in real life? Here’s a trampoline act like no other, from Cirque’s La Nouba show in Orlando, Florida (permanent residence). No special effects, nets, or wires for these men and women, folks -- this is very real, and very dangerous (video may require time to load):
“Oh,” you might be saying to yourself, “that’s all well and good for the acrobatic heroes like Batman and Spider-Man -- but what about the ones who can FLY?” Well, Cirque has an answer for that, of sorts. Here is the Russian Swing act from Varekai (touring show). These guys are absolutely nuts:
Want to see more aerial feats? Here are the lovely ladies of the Triple Trapeze from Varekai -- no net, no wires. Proof that acrobatic women don’t need to be given exaggerated features or be almost naked to be sexy -- but some creative costuming DOES work:
For those of you clamoring to see sexy guys, here are Kevin and Andrew Atherton (twins), also from Varekai. Again, no net, no wires. Look at 'em fly!
Wanna see more? How about a combination of acrobatics and stilts, courtesy of the women of Cirque’s Dralion (touring show)?
Here’s the bamboo pole act from Dralion. Getting whacked in the head would be dangerously easy:
Are you an Aquaman or Namor fan? Cirque’s got an answer for that. “O” is the most astonishing show you’ll ever see -– in the most astonishing theater you’ll ever see -– in permanent residence at the Bellagio in Las Vegas. Esther Williams wishes she could have been in something this cool:
More of a martial arts fan? There’s always “Ka,” in permanent residence at the MGM Grand, also in Las Vegas. Again, in a rather astonishing theater. And one mustn’t miss the Wheels of Death act in this show:
How does one see a Cirque performance? They have several touring shows. Their big-top performances (in big, blue-and-yellow striped circus tents) tour big cities around the world, while their arena shows are at home in sporting arenas in smaller cities. They also have several permanent shows established in a couple of cities, mostly in Las Vegas. (In fact, Cirque is often credited, or cursed, for changing the live-show landscape of Vegas in the last ten years.) I'll warn you, though -- these shows are NOT cheap. Sometimes you can find good deals on tickets, but be prepared to shell out some serious cash ($100 or more per seat in many cases).
However, over the years, Cirque HAS been very good about filming many of their shows -- mostly their touring shows -- and making the footage available via TV and video. That's definitely a good (and the least expensive) way to watch Cirque, though seeing them live IS highly recommended.
I've seen several Cirque shows live, and I have to say that if you DO see Cirque live, be sure to get seats as close to the stage as you can -- but not TOO close. If you sit too close, you miss a lot of the action, because Cirque almost always has SOMETHING going on on the stage, above the stage, below the stage, in the wings, in the audience -- all over the place. Also, if you sit in the front row, it's damn scary. I did that once -- ONLY once -- and darned near had an acrobat land right in my lap. That SOUNDS like it might be fun, but let me tell you, it was quite terrifying at the time.
If you sit too far, though, you can't see a darned thing -- especially in Cirque arena shows. Nosebleed seats are no good for the arena shows, due to the amount of scaffolding Cirque uses -- your view would be blocked.
Here are a few more Cirque facts:
- When a touring show circus tent gets worn out, the tent is usually cut up and recycled into other things, such as purses and souvenirs.
- Each Cirque show is based on a story or theme. For example, Corteo depicts the funeral of a clown. Varekai depicts an alternate -- and happier -- ending for Icarus, from Greek mythology.
- The music in most Cirque shows is performed live, and most Cirque shows feature music composed specifically for that show.
- Song lyrics and dialog in most Cirque shows are in "Cirquish," a made-up language cobbling together words from just about every major language. The effect is that Cirque always sounds exotic, or foreign, no matter WHO is sitting in the audience.
- The acts in Cirque shows tend to evolve and change, as performers or acts retire or move on to other projects and others take their places.
- Cirque's home base is in Quebec, Canada.
- Cirque supports ONE DROP, for making clean water available to EVERYONE worldwide, and is active in many social and cultural charities.
Which Cirque show is the best? It's a matter of opinion, really. I have to say I've never seen a BAD Cirque show, but I do have my favorites. I'm very fond of Varekai for various reasons. However, I have to say that by far the most stunning show I've ever seen -- by ANYONE -- is Cirque's water show, "O", at the Bellagio in Las Vegas. I saw grown, gruff men CRY during that show, it's so amazing and beautiful.
Not only that, after the show, the Cirque ushers gave my 8-year-old nephew (who was along for the show, and probably the youngest person in the audience) one of the giant inner tubes used as a prop during the show. Awfully darned nice of them, and my nephew was thrilled. Of course, it was quite a challenge (not to mention a sight) carrying that giant, orange inner tube halfway down the Las Vegas strip toward our rooms at the Luxor ...!
I apologize, because I didn't mean for this article to sound like an advertisement for Cirque du Soleil. I can't help it -- I LOVE Cirque. And I really do think if these people ever decided to go out and become costumed vigilantes, they'd be VERY, VERY close to comic-book superheroes.