After more than three decades and 40 productions, how does Cirque du Soleil keep its quirky lineup of acrobats, aerialists, contortionists and clowns fresh, especially in a market that welcomes the company on practically an annual basis?
In recent years, the Quebec-based creative team turned to shows based on the music of the Beatles, steampunk and the sci-fi movie “Avatar,” and further diversified last year by incorporating daring extreme sports like BMX bike riders.
Cirque du Soleil’s newest arena production, “Crystal,” which opened last week at the BB&T Center in Sunrise, adds figure and speed skaters to their tried and true mix.
The title character, Crystal, is a dreamer who struggles to fit into her surroundings. One day, while feeling misunderstood and out of sync with her world, she ventures out onto a frozen pond and falls through the thin ice. In this underwater reality drawn from her own imagination, she discovers a reflection of herself, an alter ego who guides her through a bizarre, distorted version of her own life and helps her realize her own potential.
The various performers represent schoolmates and chums she encounters in the classroom and playground, businesspeople robotically going about their daily routines in the city and an imaginary friend, a clown who accompanies her personal journey, often pointing the direction.
These characters take the form of acrobats performing tricks on the swing set, skaters jumping from ramp to ramp, jugglers cleverly tap dancing on ice skates, aerialists propelled with the help of a skater on the ground and, of course, world-class solo and couples figure skaters who flawlessly jump, flip and spin. At some point, every performer displays proficiency both on the ice and on some circus trick simultaneously, especially the skaters who portray Crystal and her reflection. Trapeze work is difficult enough, for example, but imagine attempting those dangerous moves 30 feet in the air while wearing clunky skates.
Cirque du Soleil typically travels the world performing in its signature blue and yellow big top tent, but arena productions have also been a staple for many years. Since many of these arenas also host ice hockey, it’s a surprise the hockey-crazed Canadians hadn’t tried this sooner.
The skating sequences shine in this setting, but unfortunately, the traditional circus acts that captivate in the intimate Grand Chapiteau easily get lost in a cavernous sports arena. Forget the lone acrobat who balances atop a tower of precariously balanced chairs, let’s see more of the team of speed skaters slide down the steep ramps, jump over obstacles and race around the ice.
Watching this production is reminiscent of Olympics opening ceremonies, thanks to brilliant projection cameras that not only create 3-D landscapes on the ice but also respond to the performers’ actions in real time. The story is also punctuated with a snappy score that pays homage to Eastern European folk music, jazz and big screen cinematic scores. Unlike most original Cirque du Soleil scores, “Crystal” features songs and narratives sung and spoken in English, rather than the company’s trademark meaningless “Cirquish” language.
Make no mistake, “Crystal” cannot and should not be mistaken for the Ice Capades or any of the children’s ice shows that pepper the schedule at the BB&T Center. It’s a sophisticated and satisfying show with more than a few thrills thrown in, too.
Cirque du Soleil presents “Crystal” at the BB&T Center in Sunrise through Sunday, July 29. Tickets start at $34 at CirqueDuSoleil.com/Crystal.