The return of Cirque du Soleil to the D.C. area — the OVO show at the Plateau at National Harbor through Oct 24 — is a stunning one. It wows the senses and defies the imagination with dazzling displays of this Montreal-based company’s technical magic of sound-and-light projections and imagery deployed to fool the eye.
But, most of all, with Cirque it’s the human touch of 54 performers from 16 countries, and director Deborah Colker, the renowned Brazilian choreographer, the first woman to write and direct a Cirque production. Colker has integrated dance movements and a Latin musical beat from composer Berna Ceppas into many numbers in the show.
The basic storyline is set in the world of insects, a huge colony teeming with every variety — fireflies, spiders, scarab beetles, butterflies, even fleas — and one stout-hearted ladybug (played with great expressive humor by Michelle Matlock) who becomes the love interest of a stranger visiting the colony, an impetuous and amorous ant-like creature (played with equally deft humor by Francois-Guillaume Leblanc). The narrative arc of OVO is the tale of their courtship, with insect pheromones flying.
As for the title “OVO” — Portuguese for egg — there is one, and it’s the great mystery of the show, with strange power over the insects somewhat akin to that of the monoliths in Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 paradigm-bending, psychedelic-science-fiction film “2001.”
The insects are struck with awe at its mystery and also intensely curious about it, as they portage it from place to place, and sometimes it even glows with secret intensity. But forget this storyline and instead watch the action, sometimes at ground level — comically, with ants juggling their food, as in bits of kiwi and kernels of corn — and other times high overhead — romantically, in the gorgeous swooning dance of butterflies mating.
As the sun rises on a bright new day, the vibrant cycle of insect life is evoked with a wake-up call from the comical senior bug Flippo, played with knockabout charm by Joseph Collard. OVO overflows with contrasts — highs and lows, majesty and mayhem as the hidden, secret world beneath our feet and fluttering or buzzing about us overhead is revealed as both tender and torrid, noisy and quiet, peaceful and chaotic. It is a world of biodiversity and beauty, filled with ceaseless noisy action, often punctuated with almost voice-like squeaks and squawks yet at other times with moments of simple quiet emotion.
During the two and a half hours of the tightly structured show, interrupted with one intermission, there are acrobatic acts that appear impossible to believe, including a trapeze act where six flyers soar so dangerously high in the biggest ever performance of its kind performed under a Grand Chapiteau (the half-million-dollar yellow and blue, towering Big Top).
This act is considered to be the most difficult in the world in terms of the distance between the stations and combines many circus disciplines — banquine, Russian swing and swinging chair. And the finale, executed to gorgeous music, features 20 artists running, jumping and indeed leaping straight up a high vertical wall.
But all along the hardest working insects are the bright red ants, played with grace and incredible foot-juggling athleticism by a troupe of six young women from China.
As for the mysterious egg, timeless symbol for the life cycle, it gives the show its underlying thread. In fact, graphically, “OVO” hides an insect in its name. The two letters “O” represent its eyes while the letter “V” forms the nose. Both wit and wisdom come together in “OVO.” This show must be seen to be believed.