Cirque du Soleil Meets Cinema With IRIS

Posted by Amoebite, October 7, 2011 08:21pm | Post a Comment
Iris logoI recently saw the new Cirque du Soleil production IRIS, a show created specifically for its venue, the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood. Home to the Academy Awards, the Kodak Theatre itself is an ode to cinema. Before you even enter the venue proper, the columns in the Hollywood & Highland mall leading up to the Kodak's doors are chiseled with the names of Best Picture winners of years past. Inside the Kodak lobbies, large photos of memorable moments in Oscar history line the walls. So basically, IRIS has pretty big cinematic shoes to fill. 

It had been many years since my previous (and only prior) Cirque show and I had sort of forgotten that Cirque du Soleil is, above all, a circus. The costumes are more magnificent, the sets are more elaborate, and there aren't any animals to pet or hay on the floor, but at its core it is a circus. Cirque du Soleil started as a small group of street performers in Quebec 27 years ago. Today it employs 5,000 people from around the world and has shows all over the US, Canada, Europe, and Asia (including a forthcoming Michael Jackson show in Las Vegas called The Immortal World Tour).
Iris Praxinoscope
As an adult, I have seen a fair amount of shows, plays, and musicals, but not a lot of circuses. While we were waiting for the show to start, our section was visited by two women from the cast - one with a very thick French accent and large padded rear who crawled across the seats and somehow managed to stick her bum in everyone's face along the way (oh, a clown!) and a woman wearing a circulating praxinoscope as a sort of tutu. The clown was my first clue that we were on a journey with the circus, and she reminded me of going to the circus in New York City with my grandmother, something I hadn't thought about in years. (My only recent experience with the circus was Water for Elephants - don't waste your time, but if you must, read the book over the movie.) 

The first big act of the show involved two men on aerial straps. Stunning and powerful, they were amazing to watch. The next act, the contortionists, involved a sort of tribal element and I didn't fully understand how it related to the movie theme. I have since discovered that they intended it to evoke the shadow stories told on cave walls that were a precursor to modern cinema. Knowing that now, the act makes more sense in the context of a "journey through the world of cinema," as IRIS' subtitle pronounces. Maybe if I had bought a program in the lobby it would have helped to frame the scenes a little better for me. Even without the connection, it was impressive watching these women behave as if their spines and limbs were made of equal parts jello and steel.

Iris aerialists    Iris contortionists

One of my favorite segments was a live, gaint replica of a film strip. A series of rooms, almost shadow boxes, were connected by doors. As people walked through each room, opening doors, sitting on chairs, and dancing on the walls in a carefully choreographed sequence, the film strip was created and moved before our eyes. I can only imagine the countless hours of rehearsal it took to get the timing down, but it was well worth it. It was such a creative way to express the connection between film, movement, and the physicality of the performers.

Iris Film Strip

The second act felt more fully and naturally connected to the movie theme. There was a hustling and bustling movie set with a million things going on in every direction, including quintessential circus disciplines like teeterboard, Spanish web, Russian bars, and aerial silk to floor gymnastics. I hardly knew where to look. 

Iris movie set

This was followed by perhaps my favorite scene, an homage to noir and gangster movies on a rooftop cityscape. Trampolinists flew, bounced, and somersaulted between the buildings, ending in a dramatic shootout worthy of any action flick.

Iris Rooftops

Iris Rooftops

All in all, the show was beautiful to look at and full of amazing acts that either made you ask "where did they find people who could do that??" or were executed with such ease that you thought you could do that too (yeah, right!). If you suspend expectations of a distinguishable plot, you can focus on the fact that you are at the circus and maybe be transported. And that's what movies are supposed to do, right? 

-by Rachael McGovern