With Cirque du Soleil, the pleasure comes with a little pain. In the case of Ovo, the touring production in the French-Canadian company's signature big top (stationed for the next several weeks at the Mall of America), the pain comes in packages both familiar (the signature punishingly awful soundtrack) and new (flights from nearby MSP periodically threaten to drown out the loud score).
But pleasure dominates the evening. Cirque's strength has always been in taking the elements of a traditional European circus and turning up the volume to 11. That's done in a string of set pieces interspersed with moments of remarkable beauty.
There's a plot to Ovo, of course, though it serves mainly just to move the action along and give the costume and set designers something to hang their freak flags on. This time, Cirque du Soleil goes all micro on us, exploring the world of bugs. Characters are represented as leaping crickets, limber spiders, tough scarabs, and the like.
Their world is turned upside down when the Foreigner (a fly) arrives with a giant egg on his back. The titular ovo sparks feelings of love with the Ladybug and occasional fits of jealousy from Filpo (I'm not sure what he is, but the costume reminds me of something from The Bugaloos). While the trio—Barthelemy Glumineau, Simon Bradbury, and Michelle Matlock—is talented and occasionally funny, there is far too much clowning for my taste, especially during an interminable bit that drags down the action in the second act.
Thankfully, there are plenty of other distractions. On the spectacle side, there is the pair of act closers. In the first half, we are treated to a stunning flying act high above our heads. The performers, dressed as scarabs, tumble and twist through the air in apparent defiance of gravity.
Fighting gravity fuels the finale as well, as the crickets present a "power track" piece (with a run of trampolines along the length of the stage, plus more out of sight at the back). The additional momentum not only allows the tumblers to put plenty of extra twists and rotations in their acrobatics, but the back trampolines, combined with a climbing wall, let the performers walk through the air, grabbing handholds on the wall or even returning to the very top. The visuals become almost overwhelming—and the characters do look very cricket-like.
Spectacle aside, it's often the quiet moments that are the best, as when the Dragonfly (Vladimir Hrynchenko) slides along a curved apparatus in a series of striking hand-balancing poses that contort his body into shapes that physics should not allow.
All of this, while exhilarating, does make for some fatigue, especially as the show stretches over two hours. Still, Ovo does end up more pleasure than pain, even if I still don't have a clue what it was supposed to be about.