With several Cirque du Soleil shows playing in Las Vegas, it’s worth the gamble to see one while you’re there. This is the rare instance where odds are you’ll leave feeling it was money well spent. Considering I’ve seen a couple of Cirque shows already, I knew what to expect—dazzling acrobatics, imaginative staging, astounding physical feats of prowess and grace. In light of this, I threw my bet down on Franco Dragone’s aquatic creation “Le Reve” – which means in French “the dream” commissioned for the Wynn. It’s what I dub as “Cirque, Jr.” or cirquesque in that it is not technically a Cirque du Soleil show but conceived by Cirque producer, Dragone himself.
“Le Reve” runs the risk of comparison to its popular predecessor “O” with its combination of water acrobatics, surreal symbolism and score and L.A.'s recent eye-popping "Iris." There’s more meat to “O” and frankly, more laughs than on this synchronized watery ballet and medley of high-flying stunts, but the specially designed theater in the round with a pool of water at its center and neck-craning rafters means a lot more equity among ticketholders as there isn’t a bad seat in the house. Of course, the closer you are to the edge of the pool, the more likely you are to experience a wet “Le Reve.”
Like most Cirque shows, spectacle trumps story. In the case of “Ka” however, too much story detracts from the spectacle compared to too little cohesion in "Iris" so there is a fine balance that needs to be struck. “Le Reve” satisfies, albeit superficially in this vein because it plays on theme of something naturally ambiguous, a dream. Comprised of two elements, water and air, the world is a sensual, fantastical realm imagined by a leggy blonde who falls asleep on a park bench after her suitor proposes. Will she accept? Or will she become a permanent resident of her dreams?
Set to thunderous new age music with the occasional weak ballad droning on some obvious point about love, bare-chested men leap from the depths of the water and strike exquisite poses atop metal trees before high-diving back into the pool with hardly a splash. It’s nothing short of amazing as the height reaches astounding levels that makes your breath catch.
The physical stunts and special effects are simply top-notch on a scale the likes of Julie Taymor must’ve aspired (perhaps she should’ve consulted with Dragone on the making of “Spider-Man,” but the professionalism and troupe’s experience keeps audiences at the edge of their seats with absolute confidence in the players’ safety. There is risk, however, which makes the show on a primal level far more exciting, particularly one scene with a trio of women wriggling in and out of a dangling ball. One poorly executed move and the whole act would fall apart. The speed and precision with which these dancers and acrobats display more than makes up for any inherent weakness in the show’s design and because there is so much eye-candy to feast on, Dragone smartly leaves audiences wanting more. This is Vegas after all, and the house always wins.
It is a challenge to succinctly describe the beautiful choreography that when put down on paper pales by comparison. In writing about the mesmerizing gymnasts who fly in from the wings in ornate, imaginative costumes of an underworld sort or the aerial stunts that involves intense pair work of men and women lifting each other and spinning around…words fail me to fully capture the transcendental awe of such artistry. I can tell you that it is a visual orgasm, lasting 75 minutes with a few comic moments interspersed between a gaggle of clowns that play second fiddle to the men who dominate this production.
The women should not be overlooked as they slice the water with their legs and display a gorgeous flexibility when soaring above the audience but it is the men who truly stand out. One of the most awesome and simpler stunts in terms of design is a slightly homoerotic dance between a pair of men on the slippery surface that is like watching a knot of limbs unravel. The result puts one man upside down on the other man’s shoulders, perfectly poised, a feat that earns applause. But then the man supporting his partner as a base takes a large step while the other moves his legs in unison so that the effect of the two bald, similar looking men is a reflection of a man walking both on the water and on the air.
This is a good example of less is more in the magnitude of visionary excess. I say excess because at times the show runs the risk of doing too much all the time. There isn’t enough of a thread that connects one scene to the other than more jaw-dropping moves, dramatic props such as fountains, a dangling streetlamp, spinning rod-iron dining table lofted into the air and so on until the finale unfurls a bright bouquet of exotic flowers. It’s all very impressive but the lasting impression leaves one feeling a bit hollow. It’s the stuff of dreams, nebulous and ethereal, but like a dream, the images begin to fade and unless you want another fix, it becomes a vague memory of limbs akimbo. There is so much squeezed in that it overwhelms and drowns the moments of shining brilliance. Still, this is Vegas where bigger and brighter is king. Don’t see “Le Reve” for any cathartic, fulfilling experience in the theater. Just go to marvel the magnitude. Especially, if you're still waiting to see "Iris."
There are flaws in Dragone’s watery world, but they are seductively smoothed over by the sheer spectacle that is trademark Cirque. If you are in Las Vegas and want a sure bet then this is the winning ticket and it’s a lot more entertaining than an evening of Keno.
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