Cirque du Soleil, Royal Albert Hall, London
Wednesday 09 January 2013
Cirque du Soleil offers a bewildering mix of the bland and the flat-out terrifying. As so often with this company, the clowning and the framing devices are all bombast. The acrobatic acts, when at last we get to them, are so scarily brave that I wanted to watch the aerialists and the wheel of death through my fingers.
Founded in 1982, this French Canadian troupe has turned circus into an international brand. Across many shows, the exaggerated makeup and costume design give Cirque du Soleil a clear trademark, blurring the individual identity of its skilled performers. The company go on about celebrating wonder and freedom, but only within the narrow limits of corporate-sponsored whimsy.
The 2007 show Kooza, directed by David Shiner, shows Cirque’s split personality at its most divided. The central figure is a sentimental Innocent, who toddles through the world of the circus without a trace of spontaneity or warmth. Clowning is one of the main themes of Kooza, which means more dreary slapstick, more gurning, more people taken out of the audience than ever before. It makes this a very long show: almost three hours, half of which could be cut.
The other half is superhuman. Sometimes the Cirque du Soleil branding makes even its acrobats anonymous. This time, the rawness of human effort shines through. Solo trapeze artist Marion Verd may be weighed down with 1980s makeup and a pompadour mullet hairdo, but there’s nothing sugary about the way she flips off the bar, twists and falls before brilliantly catching herself.
A high wire team prance and play leapfrog across two tightropes. At this performance, the first time one jumps over his colleague, he slipped off the wire, grabbing hold just in time. After a moment to recover – a fellow acrobat patted his shoulder consolingly – he went back and did it again, flawlessly. Then the whole team went on to still more dramatic stunts: skipping ropes, bicycles, a pyramid on a bicycle on a wire.
The prize for insane bravery goes to Jimmy Ibarra and Ronald Solis, who perform on the aptly-named Wheel of Death. Two giant hamster wheels are held at the end of a turning bar; as the man walks inside the wheel, he makes the whole device circle. Ibarra and Solis start by running inside their wheels. Then they run on the outside, keeping their balance on a spinning wheel that is itself swung through space.
Gravity seems to be sitting in wait for them, ready to pounce. The audience’s gasps turn to actual screams when Ibarra and Solis start to jump and dive. I screamed, too: no amount of waffle about wonder could take the edge off that.
Until 14 February. Box office 0845 401 5034
TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice
Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites
TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Nigel Farage: Me vs Russell Brand on Question Time – he's got the chest hair but where are his ideas?
- 2 Harry Potter fans can apply to the Hogwarts-inspired College of Wizardry
- 3 Jessica Chambers: 19-year-old woman 'doused with lighter fluid and burned alive' in the US
- 4 Russell Brand calls Nigel Farage 'poundshop Enoch Powell' in BBC Question Time debate
- 5 Orange Wednesdays are no more
Peter Lik: The self-proclaimed 'fine-art photographer' whose work sells for millions
The best underrated Christmas movies from Love, Actually to While You Were Sleeping
Grace Dent on TV: The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies was a beautifully shot, immensely considered drama
The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies, review: Jason Watkins is brilliant, but real victim Joanna Yeates is reduced to a footnote
Marilyn Manson denies involvement in shocking Lana Del Rey rape video
Disgruntled RBS worker writes hilarious open letter to Russell Brand after anti-capitalist publicity stunt leaves him hungry
Nigel Farage's approval rating hits 'record low' as popularity suffers in wake of Ukip sex scandal
Nigel Farage defends Kerry Smith 'ch***y' comment: 'If you are going for a Chinese, what do you say you’re going for?'
Pakistan school attack live: Taliban kill at least 132 children in 'horrifying' massacre
Sony hack: Angelina Jolie branded 'seriously out of her mind' in further embarrassing leaked email saga
Panic Saturday: 13 million Britons spend £1.2bn – while 13 million others across the country live in poverty unable to afford food