Cirque du Soleil Ovo – Review – Leeds Arena

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Cirque du Soleil Ovo – Review

Leeds Arena, September 2018

by Rachel Howard

Bucket lists… they seem to have become a “thing” in recent years. Whether it’s travel-based, or must-do, once-in-a-lifetime experiences, everyone seems to have a list of ambitions waiting to be ticked off.

I am no exception to this rule, and alongside American road trips, driving a supercar and a trip to the Ritz, it has been a dream of mine for many years to see a Cirque du Soleil show. I always presumed it would be during a trip to Las Vegas, or maybe at one of their London performances, so when the opportunity arose to see their show Ovo just a few miles from home at the First Direct Arena in Leeds, I jumped at the chance.

Formed in Quebec in the early 1980s, Cirque du Soleil was so named because of the sun’s symbolisation of youth, energy and strength. In their own words “we invoke the imagination, provoke the senses and evoke the emotions of people around the world”. For the last four decades, the company have brought their own unique take on “modern circus” to stages all around the world, with a permanent showcase in Las Vegas, and long-running global tours visiting arenas in many of the world’s major cities.

cirque du soleil ovo review leeds arena september 2018 creatures

“Fly through the air”

Having premiered in Montreal in 2009, Ovo (written, directed and choreographed by Deborah Colker) has visited more than 30 cities in six different countries as a Big Top performance before being turned into an arena show in 2016. Since October 2017, it has been touring cities all over Europe, with the UK being lucky enough to have shows in nine different locations – one of which was Leeds.

The Arena was not quite sold out on the opening night, but that didn’t dampen the sense of anticipation as we took to our seats. Ovo (meaning egg) is predominantly a love story based within the insect world. A cast of around 50 performers leap, contort and skilfully fly through the air while The Ladybug (Neiva Nascimento), The Foreigner (Jan Dutler) and Master Flipo (Gerald Regitschnig) tell the story of The Foreigner’s quest to win the heart of The Ladybug. If I’m honest, these sections of the show were a little odd; no actual words were spoken (just incoherent noise), there was an awkward audience-participation segment and I didn’t feel that the audience warmed to the characters, let alone cared about the outcome of the love story.

cirque du soleil ovo review leeds arena september 2018 lizards

“Technically eye-popping”

However, all was forgiven when the real stars of the show took to the stage. Portraying insects including ants, spiders, fleas and crickets, the Cirque du Soleil artists demonstrated everything from foot juggling and hand balancing to aerial silks and straps, Russian cradle, contortion, acrosport, slackwire and trampolining. It was during these segments that I remembered why Cirque du Soleil had captured my imagination in the first place. The large-scale set acted as a background for some of the most mind-boggling and technically eye-popping stunts I have seen. Gasps from the audience around me confirmed I wasn’t the only one on the edge of my seat. I’m not sure I’ll ever forget (or understand!) the contortion demonstrated by the white spider (Ariunsanaa Bataa).

Given that this is a touring show, the set is a technical work of art, with a crew that manoeuvre seamlessly under the cover of darkness to arrange the next pieces of equipment. Liz Vandal, costume designer for Ovo, really brings the characters to life with bright, colourful, futuristic, fantasy-like outfits that draw attention to the performers and away from the aforementioned crew.

cirque du soleil ovo review leeds arena september 2018 show

“A treat to see”

The composer and musical director Berna Ceppas combines the sounds of bossa nova and samba with funk and electro music, all performed live alongside the hauntingly beautiful voice of Julia Barros Marmund. Recordings of actual insect sounds help to bring a sense of reality to the stage, transporting the audience into the creatures’ underworld.

As the show came to a close, the full cast took to the stage as explosions of ticker tape rained down on the crowd. As I applauded, I felt a sense of satisfaction that I could tick off one of my bucket list experiences. Having now seen one Cirque du Soleil production, I would still make the effort to go and see one of their shows in a more permanent venue (Las Vegas), as I imagine that would up the ante even more.

These gigs showcase some of the most talented performers in their field, and it really was a treat to see them in all their glory. I look forward to the next time I get to witness a Cirque du Soleil show – it’s a magical experience that has to be seen to be believed.

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