For those of you on the Peninsula or in the South Bay who missed the recently concluded San Francisco run of Ovo, Cirque du Soleil's latest touring show is now playing in San Jose through March 7, 2010. As in year's past, the production is presented at the eastern end of the Taylor Street Bridge, within throwing distance of Highway 87.
I've been seeing Cirque du Soleil productions since the late 1980s, when the young company pitched its first tent on Santa Monica Beach. In the intervening 20-plus years, some shows have been breathtaking for their physical fearlessness and visual beauty while others have been dark and brooding.
Ovo is something else entirely. It is light on storyline, light of heart and light on gimmicks (a few years ago, the audience-participation bits were raised to ridiculous heights when, at one point, the chair of an audience member was slowly jacked into the air; a crew member later confided to me that the patron of that seat was always a plant). Ovo is an unfussy Cirque du Soleil. It's not afraid to be silly, sentimental or even unimportant. Mostly it's just a lot of fun.
The setting of Ovo is an underground warren filled with extravagantly costumed bugs -- grasshoppers, ants, spiders, and the like. This loosely-constituted colony has hijacked a large egg from a traveling fly. Naturally he spends most of the performance making futile efforts to win back his prize, falling in love, along the way, for a cute little ladybug, and she for him. Along with the ridiculously pompous leader of the colony, these are the circus's chief clowns.
After a musical intro that recalls the beginning of Radiohead's "House of Cards" before morphing into a kind of techno samba, the 53 performers from 13 countries quickly get down to business. First up is a dragonfly balancing and slinking about on a deceptively uncomplicated curve of steel. Next, a thick rope drops from the top of the tent and is immediately claimed by a pair of butterflies. At one point, as one butterfly on the ground spins the other high above, an enormous flower that resembles an upside-down acanthus unfolds for no discernible purpose other than to reveal itself to us. Color me dazzled.
Other highlights of the first act include a half-dozen performers dressed as ants, who rest on their backs while twirling and tossing cartoony slices of kiwi and ears of corn from one to another. Somewhere in the first act we also meet a charming Slinky-like creature. Then comes the diabolos guy (a firefly, actually), who tosses his spinning spools to the rafters, catching them and even juggling them with impossible ease.
I don't want to spoil the big finish in the second act for you, so let's just say that the spider contortionists, flea tumblers, and slackwire performer are all terrific appetizers for the final main course. (Alas, I can't tell you anything at all about the trapeze act because it was cancelled on the night I attended.) After the big finish, the bugs all assemble for dinner and a dance.
Don't worry, they don't eat the egg. Indeed, by the end of the performance, the mystical power of the egg that had been so hyped with lights and fog at the beginning of the show has been all but forgotten. Bugs being bugs, the company has moved on to other things, like taking their choreographed bows, but I honestly didn't mind. The whole evening had been so effortless and uplifting, we easily forgive the authors for being as bored with their thin story as we probably would have been to see it more deliberately concluded.
Cirque du Soleil's Ovo runs from February 4 through March 7, 2010 at the Taylor Street Bridge just east of Highway 87 in San Jose. For tickets and information, visit cirquedusoleil.com/ovo.