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‘Cirque du Soleil: Worlds Away’ takes audience inside the action

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Mia Erica Linz

The Aerialist Igor Zaripov

Ringmaster Lutz Halbhubner

Boss Dallas Barnett

Paramount Pictures presents a film written and directed by Andrew Adamson. Running time: 91 minutes. Rated PG (for some dramatic images and mild sensuality). Opening Friday at local theaters.

Updated: January 22, 2013 6:13AM

An international phenomenon with shows on every continent but Antarctica, Cirque du Soleil is rooted in the immediacy and drama of live performance. In other words, it aims for the exact opposite of a movie.

Anything that can be imagined can be put on film; its very appearance of truth makes us marvel at the technology for fooling us so effectively. We value Cirque for its old-school reality. When we sit in the tent, we see performances in real time, with real peril, never to be seen exactly the same way again.

For “Cirque du Soleil: Worlds Away,” producer James Cameron (“Avatar”) and director Andrew Adamson (“Shrek”) understand that they cannot replicate that experience. Instead they give us the chance to marvel by taking us up close and inside the action with immersive 3-D. The seamlessness and grace of the acrobatics adds to the film’s dreamy quality. In real life, we expect a sense of exertion and anxiety to underscore the sense of risk. In the movie, the balletic movement adds to the fantasy that we are in a frictionless world unlimited by the laws of physics.

Her curiosity overcoming her shyness, Mia (Erica Linz), a girl with big eyes and a gamin haircut, walks through the gate for the “Circus Marvelous.” She sees “The Aerialist” (Igor Zaripov), first smiling a welcome as he helps install the tent, then depicted on a flier given to her by a clown, and then high above, performing with breathtaking ease and grace. Suddenly he falls, hitting the sandy ground below, which collapses beneath him like quicksand.

The girl goes after him through an enchanted world of fantasy, splendor and feats of artistry, acrobatics, dance, music and firm, lithe bodies jumping, swirling, twisting and bending, all in very tight costumes. Plus, there is an adorable tricycle powered only by a pair of small yellow galoshes, and a man on fire reading a newspaper. He is not at all flustered when the flames creep up his body and onto his hat. The fire is almost a dance partner.

Mia and the aerialist wander, fall, fly and are chased through dreamlike and occasionally nightmarish scenes from seven of Cirque du Soleil’s Las Vegas shows: “O,” “KÀ,” “Mystère,” “Viva Elvis,” “Criss Angel Believe,” “Zumanity,” and in one of the film’s highlights, the Beatles tribute show, “Love.” An almost mythic inclusion of the four classical elements of fire, water, earth and air provide the settings for movement that flows seamlessly between dance, athletics and stunts that do more than defy the laws of gravity; they transcend them. In one stunning sequence, an enormous board studded with pins is tilted, distorting our perspective so that the performers swing as though they are weightless.

The costumes and makeup are dazzling, witty and wildly inventive. In one scene, two girls are connected by a single Dr. Seuss-style hairdo. In another, humans shaped like crustaceans skitter across the stage. Many of the trippy visuals are accompanied by the kind of music played in spas to relax people getting facials, but things pick up with an Elvis song and a medley of Beatles classics, including “Octopus’ Garden,” “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” “For the Benefit of Mr. Kite,” that unmistakable first chord from “Hard Day’s Night” and a resounding “All You Need Is Love.”

The aerialist has a striking purity when he performs. It is beyond ease; it is serenity. There is no sign of stress or exertion, even when he seems to be holding himself parallel to the ground with just one hand on a rope. He juggles a giant cube as though he is balancing a prima ballerina. When Mia finally catches up, their exquisite aerial ballet is one of the most eloquently romantic moments on screen this year.

Nell Minow is film critic for the website

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