Thursday, December 24, 2009

Cirque du Soleil’s “Ovo” offers a charming glimpse into the world of insects

By Stephanie Wright Hession
Arts and Culture Writer

Insects surround us every day—in the air, underground and sometimes underfoot. Yet because of the tiny stature of most bugs, the majority of people don’t give them much thought. That’s what makes Cirque du Soleil’s “Ovo” so delightful. It presents these petite creatures in full, life size view, by focusing on a bustling day in the life of butterflies, grasshoppers ants, spiders, scarabs and more. The production opened and made its U.S. premiere Nov. 27, under Cirque’s familiar royal blue and sunflower yellow grand chapiteau, just outside AT & T Park in San Francisco.

“Ovo” means egg in Portuguese, which makes sense given that Deborah Colker, its writer, director and choreographer, is from Brazil. When audience members first enter the tent, they encounter a huge, glowing egg on a stage dotted with dandelion stalks and back dropped by a honeycomb.

It all takes place on Gringo Cardia’s changing set, with Éric Champoux’s ethereal lighting and Fred Gérard’s acrobatic rigging designs. Liz Vandal’s vividly hued, whimsical costumes and Julie Bégin’s playful make up design add richness to the production. Composer and musical director Berna Ceppas provides the lively, Latin rhythm inspired score. It's all under the artistic leadership of director of creation Chantal Tremblay and Cirque du Soleil’s artistic guide, founder Guy Laliberté.

Colker’s story centers upon a flirty, ditzy ladybug (Michelle Matlock) who becomes enamored with the Foreigner (François-Guillaume LeBlanc), a goofy, over the top fly, under the overbearing supervision of Master Flippo (Joseph Collard). Providing comic relief, the characters' antics are charming for the most part but also get a bit tedious at times. However, Lee Brearley as Creatura, who appears intermittently throughout the show, keeps the audience thoroughly amused with this dancing, Slinky like insect. Moreover, the stunning circus acts, presented in the highly imaginative manner for which Cirque du Soliel is known for, make “Ovo” a must see.

Vladimir Hrynchenko gives a breathtaking, hand balancing performance as a dragonfly atop a plant during “Orvalho,” in which he exhibits the tremendous strength and control required to execute such an act. Later, he gracefully glides his lithe body along the plant’s curves.

In “Cocoon,” Marjorie Nantel enthralls during an aerial silk performance as an immersed caterpillar undergoing a metamorphosis.

In the romantic “Butterflies (Spanish Web Duo),” Maxim Kozlov and Inna Mayorova epitomize elegance and grace in a performance that blends an aerial flying act, hand-to-hand ballet and contortion, all taking place on ropes on which they soar above in harmonious unison.

In the engaging “Spiders,” Svetlana Belova, Marjorie Nantel and Robyn Houpt twist their bodies in seeming impossible contortions.

In “Acrosport,” Anna Gorbatenko, Natallia Kakhniuk, Khrystsina Maraziuk, Elena Nepytayeva and Olga Varchuk also defy preconceived notions of physical limitations as they fashion themselves into a series of flawlessly balanced, human sculptures, in an act that blends acrobatics and dance.

Spiderman Li Wei challenges gravity and physics with his nimble balancing in “Slackwire,” including riding the wire while perched on an inverted unicycle.

“Ovo’s” finale includes the thrilling “Trampo-wall,” featuring Anton Alferov, Michel Boillet, Lee Brearley, Kasper Falkesgaard, Laura Houson, Yahia Icheboudene, Karl L’écuyer, Marjorie Nantel, Ludovic Martin, Zeca Padilha, Gary Smith and Hironori Taniguchi as power tracking, trampoline hopping, wall walking and running crickets taking flight and leaping onto a massive wall, sans any support equipment.

“Ovo” plays through Jan. 24, 2010 at A T & T Park in San Francisco and Feb. 4-March 7, 2010 at the Taylor Street Bridge in San Jose. $54-$135 regular admission and $175 to $250 for Tapis Rouge package. (800) 450-1480.