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‘Zarkana’ delivers homage to classic circus arts

The Jovians are among acts featured Cirque du Soleil’s producti“Zarkana” AriResort Las Vegas. | Lance Staedler 2011 Costumes: Alan Hranitelj

The Jovians are among the acts featured in Cirque du Soleil’s production of “Zarkana” at the Aria Resort in Las Vegas. | Lance Staedler 2011 Costumes: Alan Hranitelj ©2011 Cirque du Soleil

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CIRQUE DU SOLEIL —
‘ZARKANA’

RECOMMENDED

♦ Zarkana Theater, Aria Resort & Casino, 3730 Las Vegas Blvd.

♦ Tickets $69-$180

♦ (855) ZARKANA;
www.arialasvegas.com

Updated: February 7, 2013 6:21PM



LAS VEGAS — For nearly 30 years, Cirque du Soleil’s colorful, vibrant, cutting-edge, mind-boggling, surrealist extravaganzas have shaken the circus arts to the core, resulting in some of the most breathtaking productions ­­­­— technologically, physically and artistically. From the playfulness of “Saltimbanco” and darkness of “Alegria,” to the watery wonder of “O” and the moodiness of “Mystere,” to the technical impossibilities of “Ka” and the mesmerizing soundtrack of “Love,” how we have marveled at the impish characters, glorious costumes, world-beat soundtracks and sensual athleticism. The unintelligible Cirque sing/speak, not so much.

Now there is “Zarkana,” fresh from its engagements in Moscow, Madrid and New York, and the seventh Cirque production on the famed Strip (replacing the much ballyhooed yet eventual disappointment that was “Viva Elvis”) inside CityCenter’s lush Aria Resort & Casino. The self-described “acrobatic rock experience that blends circus arts with the surreal” is a succinct and precise explanation. But the description can be applied to any number of Cirque productions — and therein lies the problem.

To be sure, “Zarkana,” directed by Francois Girard, is an intoxicating production, one that relies almost entirely on the athleticism and artistry of its human components, and not so much on the techno-wizardry of most of the other Cirque shows in town (and on tour across the globe). There is a storyline (albeit the impossible-to-decipher Cirque version of one) about a top-hatted, red-caped ringmaster/magician named Zark (played by Montreal actor-singer Paul Bisson) who ventures into an abandoned theater where the White Ghosts of his successes past come forth to help him regain his glory. Beautiful costumes (by Alan Hranitelj), lavishly detailed sets (by Stephane Roy) and plenty of other-worldly creatures abound. (There’s even a really creepy giant baby that defies description — or frankly, purpose.)

There are moments of gorgeous artistry, most notably the breathtaking “sand finger-painting” of Vira Syvorotkina, who navigates a tabletop of sand, pushing and pulling it and gently sprinkling the millions of granules atop one another until images of “Zarkana’s” characters (and other creatures) are visible amid the lines and swirls projected onto a video screen high above. This is close-up magic of the highest caliber.

Equally enthralling is the hand-balancing act of Anatoly Zalevskiy, who twists and manipulates his sinewy form, all the while perched atop a slippery, ice-like circular platform, made even more beautiful by the accompaniment of two grand pianos and the music they impart courtesy of a dynamite duo of keyboardists.

For sheer thrills, there is the Banquine, one of the oldest of circus arts, in this case a 15-member troupe that tosses each other through the air, performing summersaults and flips, and landing safely atop the human pyramids of their cohorts. There is a powerful, full-out flying trapeze (cradled in a giant spider’s web) that nicely resurrects this time-worn circus tradition.

There is also juggling, a high wire routine, a Russian Bar vaulter and a Wheel of Death duo, and if it all sounds familiar, it is, because we have seen it before in one form or another in other Cirque productions and any number of big-name circus troupes headed to an arena near you. A precision flag-tossing quartette, as colorful as any that you’ll see in Italy’s annual costumed flag-throwing tournaments (dating back to the Middle Ages, no less) seems completely misplaced here.

There is nothing wrong with celebrating the classic circus arts, revisiting those masterful core components that have made generations of children of all ages smile with wonder and delight. They are part of an honorable and highly skilled discipline. But Cirque du Soleil has forever been the trumpeter of all things bigger and better, impossibly more difficult and ridiculously more technically demanding. As such, audiences have become accustomed to having their senses assaulted at every turn; a woman juggling tennis balls is not gonna get the job done.

“Zarkana” seems a perfect fit for a more intimate evening of circus theater, where all the lavish backdrops are gone, and the mastery of the performers is not swallowed by the vastness of nearly 1,900 seats crying out for grand spectacle. (How we have been spoiled by Cirque!)

As an introduction to the world of Cirque du Soleil, the beautiful and lyrical “Zarkana” is an ideal choice, well-worth the hefty ticket price. As the 7th wonder of the Cirque Las Vegas World, it just can’t hold a candle to its sister shows up and down the boulevard.



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