Luxe Life Blog
Photos: ‘Zarkana,’ Part 1 — overview of Cirque’s acrobatic spectacular
Editor’s Note: This is Part 1 of a three-part series ahead of Thursday’s first night of preview performances of the new Cirque du Soleil acrobatic spectacular “Zarkana” at Aria in MGM’s CityCenter. Today, an overview of the extraordinary production; Wednesday, we’ll meet two of the stars; and Thursday, we talk with the creative directors. Robin Leach flew to New York before the production packed up and began its trek west to Las Vegas.
More than 1.2 million theatergoers have been awed by the surreal acrobatic spectacle “Zarkana,” and it hasn’t even played Las Vegas yet. Unlike other Cirque shows created for the Strip, “Zarkana” was designed for a limited run at New York’s Radio City Music Hall, but its extraordinary success has spread to Moscow’s Kremlin State Palace Theater and Spain’s Madrid Arena.
Now that “Viva Elvis” has left the building, “Zarkana” is ready to open Thursday at its new home in Aria. Its star, “Zark,” doesn’t speak a word of English; when I tell that part of the story Wednesday, I’ll explain how magically he still controls the entire production.
“Zarkana” is without doubt a visually stunning modern acrobatic experience that many times defies logic and gravity. As our Editor at Large John Katsilometes put it, “This is a Cirque greatest-hits show.” “Zarkana” played New York starting in June 2011, moved to Spain in November 2011 and then to Russia in January this year before returning to the Big Apple for a summer run.
The load out at Radio City Musical Hall in Manhattan began Sept. 2. It took 65 giant trucks to transport the scenery and equipment to Las Vegas with the first truck arriving Sept. 17. The setup at Aria began Sept. 24, and after nearly three weeks, everything was installed, with testing of the acrobatic equipment beginning Oct. 10. Seventy people are in the Las Vegas cast backed by a crew of 90 unseen heroes.
Cirque officials describe “Zarkana” as a visual vortex set in a slightly twisted fantasy universe where chaos and craziness give way to festivity and love regained in a fantastical and suspenseful world that blurs boundaries between the real and imaginary. I describe it simply: “Wow!” I agree with my old colleagues at the New York Post that it is gorgeous, stunning and awe-inspiring.
The production at RCMH began with a beautiful tap-dancing juggler who created sounds by tossing balls in the air and bouncing them off anything close to hand. She was followed by two ladder specialists who balanced unlike anything ever seen before and a duo of Italian lovers hurling high colored flags in a myriad of mind-boggling maneuvers.
Your mouth will drop wide open and you may hold your stomach and stop breathing when the Russian bar performers show their skills springing nonstop with somersaults and twists high in the air. I don’t know if our Fire Department will permit the fire breathing that accompanies the high-speed high-wire artists skipping on one foot on a tightrope. I don’t know if you’ll call for medics as you sit stunned and dizzy watching the seven artists atop the Cyr Wheels as three others appear to “hang” in the air turning through hoops.
The frenetic pace of amazement slows comfortably with a sand painter who depicts what you’ve seen in the first part and prepares you for the second part. Then it’s onto the 12 flying trapeze artists who work inside three pathways and create the most incredible visual effect as they criss-cross in flight.
As if that’s not enough dangerous amazement, two Wheel of Death artists perform high jumps over the stage while propelling the wheel simultaneously with their own strength. There are two moments in the production that are show stoppers: the acrobat who twists unlike any other from one arm to another while his body performs elegant figure ballet work and the 16 artists who create human pyramids in synchronized sequences. There aren’t words to describe this.
The story line involves the magician Zark who returns to an abandoned theater, and although his friends return to help him stage a comeback show, he’s lost his magic powers. Eventually, his assistant and love of his life is discovered, and the magic returns. It’s quite a journey until then with the Mutant Ladies -- one of whom is the snake woman who’s reptiles wrap around the entire stage, a child who becomes a six-armed creature inside a giant pickle jar, the tarantula spider woman, a scientist, an extraterrestrial creatures and 15 white clowns.
Cirque spectacles with more than 1,300 performers from 50 countries have now been seen in 300 cities on six continents. “Zarkana” becomes the seventh resident show in Las Vegas following the successes of “Mystere,” “O,” “Zumanity,” “Ka,” “Love and Criss Angel’s “Believe.” Since its debut in 1984, founder Guy Laliberte’s company has sold more than 100 million tickets.
Just where did the name “Zarkana” come from? It’s a clever marriage of the words ‘”bizarre” and “arcane” meaning mystery or secret. It was written and directed by Francois Girard, who won praise for his films “Silk” and “Red Violin.” We’ll meet him Thursday.
On Wednesday, our series continues when we talk in English to the stars who don’t speak a word of it onstage. They have their very own language, but somehow in this fantasy world of death-defying acrobatics, it all makes sense.
Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.
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