Zarkana

Colorful costumes. A rock and roll score. Performers flying around the stage and over the audience. Spidey 3.0? No, dear readers, it’s Zarkana, the new Cirque de Soleil show enjoying a summer run at Radio City Music Hall.

(Fun side note: When I visited RCMH to see Zarkana, it marked the first time I was at the famed venue. As such, all I could think of was Grace and Annie getting ready, Daddy Warbucks saying, “Punjab, buy out the eight o’clock show,” and the Rockettes singing and dancing, “Let’s Go to the Movies!” Ah, Annie…)

I have never seen a Cirque show before so I can’t compare this to other Cirque creations. Still, I hereby declare that anything that was once known as cool, excellent, zang or fetch shall henceforth be known as zarkana. It was that awesome!

Production notes state that Zarkana “is an acrobatic rock opera…where, little by little, chaos and craziness give way to festivity and love regained.” I can’t say there was a palpable story or that the aforementioned themes came to light, but that’s okay. I wasn’t walking into Zarkana looking for a story or characters or an intriguing plot. I was expecting a first-rate spectacle full of simultaneously beautiful and death-defying feats. And that’s exactly what it was.

Directed and written by Francios Girard, with music by Nick Littlemore, Zarkana is made up of twelve stunt performances, for lack of a better term. We watch Juggling, a Rope Duet, Sand Painting and even a Wheel of Death, all while a cast of misfits (in ghoulish but whimsical costumes by Alan Hranitelj), led by singers Garou and Cassiopee, prance around a stunning, lush, surreal garden designed by Stephane Roy.

First up was the juggler, Maria Choodu. This wasn’t your typical, “look, I can juggle three oranges” stunt. This was real-deal speed juggling. Choodu used seven balls at once (if I counted correctly – she went so fast, it was difficult to keep track!) while also moving around the stage and up and down platforms.

Next was Ladders, in which Anastasia Dvoretskaya, Victoria Dvoretskaya and Dmitry Dvoretskiy climbed the entire height of the stage, way, way up into the fly, using ladders and each other.

Following Ladders was Rope Duet, which was among my favorites. Di Wu and Jun Guo wrapped themselves up in each other and a single rope, a la Stravinsky Violin Concerto, and flew across the stage. Watching them work their bodies into these impossible positions, relying almost entirely on their own strength, I became suddenly very angry with NASCAR drivers and golfers who call themselves athletes. Wu and Guo are athletes of the highest order, and their rope de deux was exquisite.

Flags was next, featuring Frederico Pisapia, Giuseppe Schiavo, Vincenzo Schiavo and Marco Senatore. Let me tell you, dear readers, my high school’s color guard never looked this good. Flags wasn’t particularly impressive in its perceived difficulty, but their timing was precise and sharp, and the flags looked like huge, beautiful butterflies floating throughout the stage.

Next was Russian Bar, with Carole Demers, Johnny Gasser and Yuri Kreer. In this event, Gasser and Kreer held what looked like a flexible and portable, 4-inch wide balance beam (from gymnastics) in mid-air while Demers jumped and turned…and stuck every single landing! Think about how impressive it was when Dominique Dawes or Kerri Strug would do a routine on the balance beam. Now imagine them doing the same routine on a long piece of rubber that moved and was held in place by teammates. Astounding!

Continuing in a similar vein, High Wire was up next, with Ray Navas Velez, Rony Navas Velez, Rudy Navas Velez and Roberto Navas Yovany. I was sufficiently wowed. Two of the high wire act men would be back later in something truly spectacular.

Finishing act one was Cyr Wheel and Aerial Hoops. This was visually interesting, if not nearly as “Oh my goodness!”-inducing as the other acts. The best part about this, though, was when an aerialist flew out over the audience and, how shall I put this, paid homage to Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark by miming some web slinging. My friend and I doubled over in laughter at this. A little snark at the circus never hurt anyone, right?

Following intermission, we were treated to the breathtakingly beautiful Sand Painting of Erika Chen. My friend had seen YouTube video of Ms. Chen before, and I had seen her on some talk show, but neither of us had seen her perform live on stage. It’s exquisite. On a sand table, Ms. Chen creates these gorgeous paintings. She uses nothing but sand and her fingers. Each movement follows the last with impossible rapidity and—here’s what amazed me the most—there was not one superfluous movement. Even when she “cleared” the board, there was a method to it. She cleared the board in such a way that put the sand exactly where she wanted it for the next painting. This was not an athletic feat but a truly remarkable display of skill and diligence. Upon seeing one of the “paintings,” I turned to my friend and said, “I want to hang that on my wall!”

After the sand painting, we got back to the outstanding acrobatics with Trapeze. (This portion featured Dmitry Denisov, Andriy Marchuk, Ganna Myrgorodska, Denis Pankov, Valerii Pereshkura, Sergey Poletsky, Alexander Romanyuta, Maksym Sautin, Peter Serdioukov, Artem Skabelkin, Yakov Dyrda and Artem Ledovskikh.) What incredible athleticism and, more important, what an amazing sense of trust they must have with one another. These athletes jump from a moving trapeze bar, flip through the air and count on their partner or another bar to be exactly where it needs to be when it needs to be. It’s truly a sight to see. They really did fly through the air with the greatest of ease, and as they did the whole theatre responded with “ooos” and “aahs.”

Next was Wheel of Death, with Ray Navas Velez and Rudy Navas Velez of the High Wire act coming back for this fantastical performance. The two men essentially walked through and around a double rotating mouse wheel. But you want to know the most jaw-dropping part? I didn’t see any harnesses! They really were walking on and through this structure. I was terrified they might hurt themselves but the professionals, of course, made it out unscathed.

The penultimate act was Hand Balancing, featuring Anatoly Zalevskiy. Because of his costume, loose white pants and a long sleeved white cut off shirt, I was reminded a little of “Contact” from Rent. (That’s the number in which Angel is clad all in white and dances his/her way up to heaven.) Because of the movement, I was reminded of a yoga class. Zalevskiy contorted himself into all sorts of yoga-like poses, demonstrating both nearly unreal flexibility and unmatched strength. I particularly liked the shadows his movements made both on stage and in the cavernous auditorium. (Lighting design is by Alain Lortie.)

Ending the extravagant evening was Banquine, which, more than anything else, showed what strength is to be found in the human body. (Banquine featured: Ekaterina Aleshina; Yury Baramzin; Konstantin Besschetnyy; Valeriy Chernyy; Vladimir Fomin; Denis Gircha; Nikolay Glushchenko; Alexey Gribtsov; Sergey Kholodkov; Pavel Koreshkov; Dmitry Kukva; Anna Mokhova; Dmitry Shilov; Dima Sidorenko; Halina Starevich; and Alexandre Zaitsev.) Here, the athletic artists jumped over and on top of each other, and at one point created a human ladder about five people high. All this without a harness; without some sort of technology or CGI effect making it possible.

After watching Zarkana, I am convinced that there is truly no end to what human beings can do.


Zarkana is playing at Radio City Music Hall through October 8, 2011. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit cirquedusoleil.com/zarkana.

(Logo and rehearsal photos are from the show's official website: cirquedusoleil.com/zarkana.)

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