So, Cirque du Soleil is a circus that began in France, has a truly international cast, and performs throughout the world. Roughly it translates to Circus of the Sun (don’t ask, you know how deep and abstract the French are!). The company never rests on its laurels and is always looking for new ways to present and to perform. For the first time ever, we decided to go and watch them in Sheffield, UK, at the ice arena. Yes, it was circus on ice, and titled Crystal.
Ask me on any normal day whether dancing on ice does anything for me personally and you’ll get a resounding NO! But we thought we’d give it a go anyway, even if I whinged all the following day.
Beginning at eight o’clock the greatest challenge for them was going to be to entertain me. So bring it on, Cirque du Soleil.
The booming voiceover of Cirque du Soleil’s ‘Crystal’ opened the show. The narrator speaks of a world that the main protagonist, Crystal, knows but just can’t understand the world that is familiar to her – but tilted in a surreal, disorienting way. Are you with me still? Well, as I said, it is French.
Crystal has her head in the clouds. She doesn’t fit in, whether it’s work or play. So she takes to the ice (?), does a dance only to fall through it (not literally!) into a very different world that is both extravagant and bizarre. She begins to feel empowered. Well, you would, wouldn’t you? And after this beautiful tameness, this monster of a physically exhausting show starts.
In a word it can only be described as fabulous. The annoyingly talented skaters are all Olympic standard, or experts in some way on the ice. Triple axles and butterfly jumps are mere childs play in this arena. Crazy physical ice hockey players, snowballing clowns and freestyle aggressive speedskaters mix suicidally with tap dancing skaters and a live skating band. Yes, it’s live music, and it’s out-of-this-world brilliant music. Anything from ethnic eastern European street music with clarinet, accordian, acoustic guitar and violin, to amazing classical grand piano, and from Irish jigs to heavy rock that just about blows your socks off. At times there are romantic interludes where Crystal dances and does her delicate ‘moves’, and there are other times when a cast of 50+ lunatic skaters are zooming around, floating on high wires, and leaping from the fantastically high scenery that is both death defying and spectacular. Did I mention the high wire acts and trapeze? No, not ordinary acts but scary, nail-biting, edge-of-your-seat stuff that defies gravity and belief. A truly amazing lighting set flashes and dazzles, with lasers and intricatley projected patternation that adds to the magic.
Crystal’s story moves through several acts, each one centered around a different theme and features skating, acrobatics, choreography (they even tap dance on skates) and more — the show never wavers in its dazzling quality. Just as you begin to wonder how on earth Cirque du Soleil managed to find someone who can catch an icehockey stick 20ft in midair while skating full speed up and down two skateboard ramps in time to music, you’ve realized that they’ve found not one, but 10 people who can do it. And all can do backflips, 360s and leap high boxes, on skates.
But that’s not everything. This is a circus after all. Cirque du Soleil is obsessed with outdoing itself. Acrobats effortlessly scale enormous poles swinging from the ceiling, and then leap from one pole to another, swinging several feet away, and then catching themselves using only their legs. But this was never enough for the Cirque du Soleil team — the performers wouldn’t go home until the audience burst into an uproarious cheer after two acrobats climbed onto swinging poles, backflipped off them 30ft into the air and landed on their bladed feet onto a small mattress that had been placed only milliseconds before.
And if doing a handstand off the legs of a chair vertically stacked on top of four other chairs wasn’t already a hairy experience to watch, Cirque du Soleil pushes the envelope, bumping it up to eight chairs – on ice! During suspenseful moments such as these, you can hear a pin drop. It’s likely that audiences were especially nervous at times, considering recent news on tragic deaths related to Cirque du Soleil acrobats’ tragic deaths while performing new stunts.
The same aspects that make a Cirque du Soleil show so mesmerizing also make it difficult to critique. After all, there’s simply nothing else in the world to compare it to, except other outrageous Cirque du Soleil shows.
Was it any good?
The first thing was the easy access from the motorway and the clear road signage. Even I nearly didn’t get lost. Car parking is always a worry to me, especially in a city centre, but it was just problem free. Ok, a tad expensive, but so convenient. It was obviously a staggered arrival for the audience and a thousand or two vehicles were already there when we arrived. So a mass exit when the show had finished was bound to cause problems? Lo and behold, come ‘home time’ we pretty much left without a hitch. How good was that? It was stress free.
The Ice Arena is staffed by the friendliest of people and we had no problems at any time. The show itself is (as I’ve tried my best to describe it), worth every penny, and I thoroughly recommend catching Cirque du Soleil – Crystal, before it’s too late.