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Cirque du Soleil’s IRIS

Film Strip

Photo: Matt Beard (c) 2011 Cirque du Soleil

Cirque du Soleil has long been a favorite of mine. My first time attending one of their shows was about 20 years ago with my mother and aunt. I was just a kid of 11 years, but remember being completely blown away at the unbelievable feats of acrobatic mastery contained within the temporary tent constructed in the South Coast Plaza parking lot. Over the years I would go on to see Mystère, O, Zumanity, Kà, and Love; all of which quickly became instant favorites of mine. So when I heard Cirque du Soleil was bringing an all new show to my city of Hollywood based around the art of cinema, I was more than ecstatic.

Playing at the Kodak Theatre, home to the annual Academy Awards show, IRIS by Cirque du Soleil is a live performance of uninhibited skill, daring, and imagination. Some of the world’s best acrobats converge on stage for a show like no other I have seen before, blending technology, music, and comedy with their hallmark brand of acrobatics. IRIS takes the viewer through an interpretive history of cinema starting all the way back to the shadow stories in prehistoric cave walls, to modern cinema. All the while, we follow the story of a young composer pursing his true love, a beautiful actress attempting to become a movie star.

The dreamlike sequences of acrobatics are brilliantly matched to an orchestral score by Danny Elfman. I can’t think of a better composer for such a unique show filled with crazy costumes and wildly imaginative sets. The live orchestra brings the show an added layer of energy and life that resonates throughout the theatre to the very last note.

The experience of watching IRIS is difficult to explain, as I believe it is probably different for each person. Part of the reasoning behind that is because there is so much going on at the same time during most of the acts that it would be impossible to see everything. One particular act that comes to mind is the Movie Set scene that opens up the second act. There are easily 20-40 people on stage during this scene, each one dressed in a different costume, and each one doing some sort of acrobatic feat on a different part of the stage. I tried as hard as I could to absorb everything but there was simply too much going on for me to process the entire scene. Imagine hitting a bee hive with a stick and the madness that would ensue. It was kind of like that.

And speaking of frenzied insects, the Kiriki act which featured eight acrobats dressed as colorful bugs, was a nail-biting experience as I watched them tumble and spin as they stacked themselves into a pyramid of bodies formed with precision. In fact, there were several moments of the night where I was on the edge of my seat filled with amazement at the seemingly impossible feats the performers executed with fluidity and ease. But like the contrast of light and shadow used throughout the show, there are also moments of calm and grace that contrast beautifully with the moments of higher tension and energy.

Perhaps my favorite part of the show was the way they used live video and projection in some of the acts to create effects that have to be seen to appreciate how amazing they are. Acrobats moving in front of a large black screen are recorded live and a series of still images of their silhouettes are projected behind them in sequence to give the impression of film frames being overlayed on top of each other to show their motion. Another time, a series of small rooms lined up side by side act as individual frames of a film strip as the characters record a quick 5 second snippet of video which is then echoed and replayed in each room in sequence as they make their way down the line of rooms, interacting with the video they just recorded. Again, my description doesn’t do it any justice; you really have to check it out live to appreciate it.

Without a doubt, IRIS has become one of my favorite live shows of all time. It is a spectacle of action and talent that will leave your heart racing and wanting more.