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Theater review: 'Ovo' by Cirque du Soleil at Santa Monica Pier

January 21, 2012 |  3:12 pm


 Is there such a thing as Cirque saturation? If so, L.A. has come down with a serious case of it.

"Ovo," the new insect-themed traveling show from Cirque du Soleil, set up camp Friday at the Santa Monica Pier for a two-month stay. Just 15 miles east in Hollywood, "Iris" continues its open run at the Kodak Theatre, with a break for the Oscars. Later this week, Cirque's "Michael Jackson: The Immortal World Tour" is scheduled to land at the Honda Center in Anaheim and then Staples Center in downtown for a limited engagement.

Having three Cirque shows in town at more or less the same time feels a bit like overkill. Is local demand for double-jointed acrobatics and psychedelic spandex so insatiable? L.A. isn't Vegas, after all. But complaining about the abundance can come off as humbug, like saying you hate Christmas and puppies.

PHOTOS: Cirque du Soleil's 'Ovo'

"Ovo," which is Portuguese for "egg," is set in an imagined Brazilian rain forest teeming with critters of all sizes. Ants, beetles and arachnids mingle in a kind of entomological utopia. In the Cirque scheme of things, the show isn't terribly imaginative or even memorable. But it features a handful of set pieces that deliver nicely on Cirque's global brand of gravity-defying stunts.

Visually, "Ovo" is a colorful, garish, joyous mess -- think of it as "A Bug's Life" meets Ziggy Stardust. Two of the best acts come early on. A sextet of red ants juggles jumbo slices of kiwi with their feet; they then take turns juggling each other in perfectly timed synchronicity.

They are soon followed by a pair of butterflies who engage in a perilous aerial duet, relying on a rope-like contraption and a whole lot of stamina. The duo levitates, twirls and glides without the benefit of a safety net, their athletic grace enhanced by a sense of danger.

"Ovo," like other Cirque productions, works best when it abandons the literal world and enters the realm of dreams. A giant, hairy caterpillar-like creature with slinky limbs almost steals the show with its inexplicable dance.

In another act, a performer dressed in a silvery, David Bowie-esque costume executes a number of high-wire stunts, including one that requires riding upside-down on a unicycle. But what lingers most in the mind is the performer's mysterious, otherworldly androgyny.

The show sometimes suffers from sequences that feel under-imagined. The clown acts that are interspersed between the acrobatic numbers go on for much too long and have a boilerplate quality, despite the enthusiastic performances of all involved. These scenes improve tenfold when imagining a large can of Raid hovering over the silly proceedings.

Other numbers, such as a trapeze act by a troupe of gold-lame scarabs, promise high-altitude thrills but seem to end too early.

Insect life turns out to be a perfect metaphor of the Cirque world of airborne derring-do. It's too bad the creators of "Ovo" didn't mine the arthropod phylum for more interesting or threatening organisms. No one is calling for capoeira-dueling cockroaches or a procession of dung beetles, but some acknowledgement of the insect world's creepier side would have made for a deeper experience.

"Ovo," written and staged by Brazilian choreographer Deborah Colker, debuted in 2009 in Montreal and has been touring North America. Like other Cirque productions conceived as tent shows, it features a relatively intimate seating configuration that enhances the audience experience through proximity to the performers.

The music, composed by Berna Ceppas, is performed live, as in many Cirque shows, and deserves special mention for its ability to unify the disparate acts under an umbrella of festive folk-pop-samba-influenced tunes.

The show saves its most buoyant number for the finale. Nearly 20 performers clad in green and red bodysuits use trampolines to hurl themselves up an 8-meter-high precipice in a sequence of coordinated moves that bring together dance, acrobatics and wall-climbing in seamless fashion. The athleticism on display is mind-boggling, with the performers appearing to break all of Newton's laws at once.

"Ovo" may not be the best "Cirque" show in world, or even in L.A. at the moment. But its isolated instances of pure aerial magic are still something to buzz about.


Theater review: 'Iris' by Cirque du Soleil at the Kodak Theatre

Cirque du Soleil's 'Iris' sets new pricing high for L.A.

Cirque du Soleil loves L.A. but does a balancing act with Hollywood

-- David Ng

"Ovo," by Cirque du Soleil. Santa Monica Pier. 8 p.m., Tuesdays through Saturdays; 4 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays; 1 and 5 p.m., Sundays. $31.50-$145 (VIP tickets are available at $270). or (800) 450-1480. Running time: approximately 3 hours.

Photo: Nadine Louis hangs upside down in a scene from "Ovo," by Cirque du Soleil. Credit: Arkasha Stevenson / Los Angeles Times