Cirque du Soleil's "IRIS": Eye-Opening

If you like movies, and especially if you love movies, then this is the Cirque du Soleil for you. Let’s start with the venue: “IRIS” is not playing now at a theater near you, but in the magnificently appropriate Dolby (formerly Kodak) Theater in Los Angeles, the current and future home to the annual Academy Awards presentations. There is history there, with its ghostly vibes of movie stars from the golden age of the silver screen. What the folks at Cirque du Soleil have put together is subtitled “A Journey through the World of Cinema”, and it is decidedly that.

This is a journey unique to the Cirque du Soleil brand, in that it depicts more of a central narrative in a specific locale, namely Hollywood. The storytelling revolves around two young protagonists, Buster and Scarlett (any cinematic homage is purely intentional), as they break into the movie business, encountering all sorts of familiar images and experiences, while also demonstrating the eye-opening magic that only live theater can bring. Ironically, while on the surface celebrating iconic moments in film history, this show overwhelms with its equally exciting visual theatrical wonders.

The creative team behind this production is led by the extraordinarily imaginative Writer/Director Philippe Decoufle, who established the dance company DCA three decades ago. There are a host of other contributors to this multi-ringed circus. A cast of seventy-two (though it seemed at times like ten times that number) performs astounding acrobatic feats, painfully realistic recreations of vaudeville routines (sources for many an early film), and superbly executed mime and dance movement. Choreographer Daphne Mauger stands out in the group of contributors, including acrobatic performance designers and technical staff. While the elaborate sets, props, sound design, lighting and wondrous costumes (five hundred, count them, five hundred) can overwhelm, it’s the balletic grace on view that keeps this show on its toes. Add to this the bountiful orchestral score by Danny Elfman (himself no stranger to movies and Academy Awards), including an introduction sounding suspiciously like Jack Skellington of “Nightmare Before Christmas”.

The sole complaint one might make about this show is that there is always more going on that meets the eye, or rather, one pair of eyes. Whether you’re being entranced by an eight-man acrobatic team (who don’t so much defy gravity as redefine it), a three-woman group of marvelous contortionists, or several high-flying acts even “Spiderman” couldn’t match, there are many potential diversions elsewhere on stage, in the aisles and in the wings. While this is hardly unusual for Cirque du Soleil, it can be a bit exhausting, most challenging if you’re a true movie buff. If you keep that one pair of eyes attentive, you’ll catch references and images of some of the most iconic cinematic moments, from earliest silent films (such as Melies’ “A Trip to the Moon”) to gladiator epics, loin-clothed jungle heroes, and even the MGM lion. (No spoiler here, but this one will have you off to a roaring start.

“IRIS” promises to become a permanent fixture on the Hollywood bucket list of serious filmgoers, theatrical devotees, and circus enthusiasts. If you’re a fan of all three, then this is the smorgasbord made for you, should you be traveling to Los Angeles in the future. The finale, “Film Noir”, in which the best is saved for the last reel, will send you out of the theater with the saddest words of all time: “The End”.

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