By Debbie Gardner
Assistant Managing Editor
HARTFORD, CONN. -- A few minutes into the opening act of Cirque du Soleil's newest traveling show OVO -- balances performed by a young man using only one hand on a corkscrew metal support -- my 10-year old son, Evan, leaned over to me and whispered, "He's showing off."
In his second year as a competitive gymnast, Evan knew just how much strength, muscle control and concentration the poses we were seeing -- which the performer achieved with seemingly deceptive ease -- really required.
I explained to him that showing off was what the evening was all about. We were watching a newly-created Cirque show, one that had just opened its 2010 tour in Hartford.
We were among the first audiences to see it this season, and the show designers and performers wanted us to be impressed and amazed.
Judging by the number of gasps, ohhs and ahhs I heard from my fellow audience members during the show, I'd say the creative team at Cirque achieved the desired effect.
I've been privileged to review five performances by Cirque du Soleil troupes, including three in the familiar yellow-and-blue striped tent that rises on Market Street every two summers, and I can say without reservation that they truly raised the bar with this show.
The performances in OVO are amazing, breathtaking feats of grace, strength and skill.
From the troupe of Chinese female jugglers who tossed and caught not only ear-of-corn shaped barrels but also each other using only their feet, to the Russian couple who performed the Spanish Web -- twisting and spinning high above the unprotected stage using only the thick rope they folded or wrapped around themselves as a support -- to the 11-member flying act, one of the largest and most complex Cirque has ever mounted under the big top, that combined classic trapeze with chair balancing in a dizzying display of strength, balance and skill -- this was entertainment designed to rekindle the magic that has, for 25 years, made the name Cirque du Soleil synonymous with spectacle.
As always, there was a story that framed the action; this show involves the world of insects and in particular, a troupe of various bugs living in a glade. A new insect arrives, bringing with him a large egg, the OVO, which fascinates everyone.
The familiar love story, a recurrent theme in many Cirque shows, plays out between the new bug and a coquettish ladybug, while the gaudy beetle who serves as the show's master of ceremonies also doubles as head clown. The repartee between the beetle and the new bug, which at times includes audience participation, serves to add the classic comic relief to OVO that is also a hallmark of a Cirque du Soleil show.
There were so many stunning performances, I would be remiss not to add the slackwire rider who pedaled his unicycle with his hands while holding a perfect handstand, the contortionist "spiders" who folded and twisted into seemingly impossible positions and the jumping "crickets" who front-flipped and handspringed down the stages' hidden bounce track, finally launching themselves to the top of the set's rock-like "wall" -- to those that delighted and amazed myself, my son and my husband.
OVO is simply magnificent. It's a combination of color and music and spectacle and skill that will draw you in and leave you breathless.
The show runs in the tent at Market Street through July 11, with performances at 8 p.m. on July 7, 4 and 8 p.m. on July 8-10 and at 1 and 5 p.m. on July 11. Tickets are priced from $45 to $125 for adults, $31.50 to $87.50 for children two-12 and $40.50 to $112.50 for seniors 65 and up, students 13 and up with I.D. and members of the military. Cirque is also offering a special four-ticket package for $115 for this Hartford tour.
To purchase tickets, or for more information about OVO or other Cirque du Soleil shows, visit www.cirquedusoleil.com.
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