Cirque du Soleil: "Iris"

September 25, 2011

Kodak Theatre

Los Angeles, CA

September 25, 2011
Reviewed by Victoria Looseleaf

Imagine a world run by the behemoth Cirque du Soleil. It would be chaotic, dangerous, beautifully surreal, sublime, ridiculous to the point of being insane, and, above all, would be swimming in wealth. But would it be art?

Having grown from a small, animal-free circus to a conglomerate with some 27 shows running in over 271 cities on every continent except Antarctica, the little Montreal-based-circus-that-could somehow did not manage to conquer this reviewer’s heart with its latest extravaganza.

Dubbed Iris and subtitled “A Journey Through the World of Cinema,” the $100-million production is now permanently ensconced in the heart of Hollywood at the venue that hosts the Academy Awards. An homage to films, the spectacle was written and directed by Philippe Decouflé, also a choreographer, though Daphné Mauger is responsible for the muddled mix of dance numbers here.

In Decouflé’s Cirque debut, he continuously, pardon the pun, pulls focus—much to the audience’s detriment—making this a rambling, overblown bouillabaisse of a show.

Yes, there are supremely gifted athletic artists (75 acrobats, aerialists, and clowns), including a pair of hunky blonde twins whose act has them balletically floating over the 2,500 people craning their necks. The theater itself is glammed up in Grand Guignol fashion, courtesy of designer Jean Rabasse. And what would Cirque be without a coterie of Chinese contortionists who twist themselves into geometric and superhuman shapes, in this case balancing atop a giant film reel?

Little of this actually seems new (calling all Ed Sullivan Show plate-spinners), merely tried-and-true acts dressed up differently. And speaking of costumes, Philippe Guillotel’s outfits are more weird than inspired, with some performers sporting antennae, and one figure in the second act prancing around as a moose with antlers. Hmm.


What these creatures have to do with Hollywood’s history is anyone’s guess. OK, there is a gal who flits around in a Praxinoscope skirt, an early animation device that here is tutu-esque. There’s also some cool shadow puppetry, with nods to Thomas Edison, Eadweard Muybridge, and flicks such as Psycho, when leaping acrobats loom larger than life in frame-by-frame rear projections.

And the second act features a terrific film set that serves as a kind of King Kong meets Keystone Kops studio, its array of dancers, broom-pushers, and film grips madly cavorting and doing flips off of kiddie-like teeter-totters. There’s also an ingenious film noir segment: Seven cubes with sliding panels provide the stage for antic chase sequences, as trampolines are transformed into roofs and the movement literally soars. All this, set to Danny Elfman’s tri-polar music—part “Simpsons,” part Leonard Bernstein, part Bernard Herrmann.

But the essence of Iris is that of a sideshow, albeit an elaborately constructed one. Taking its place on a Hollywood Boulevard already teeming with Disney characters, Star Wars’ creatures, and Elvis and Marilyn impersonators, this Cirque is intended for tourists. Be sure and bring plenty of dough, though, as top tickets go for $253, and cheap seats at the Kodak (located in a mall), have lousy sight lines. But then again, Hollywood is all about make-believe, so pretend it’s fabulous and everyone will be happy.



Matt Beard © 2011 Cirque du Solei,
Courtesy Cirque. Costumes by Philippe Guillotel.