From the moment I walked into the theater at the ARIA Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, I knew I was about to witness a truly unique performance. The whimsy and theatrics of Cirque du Soleil’s Zarkana begin before the curtain is even raised. Performers on stilts waltz through the crowd as visitors take their seats and tribal beats hum in the background.
The first thing I noticed about these performers was their eccentric garb. At first glance it seemed relatively tame: powdered faces, Marie-Antoinette style wigs, papier-mache colored clothing. Once I got a closer look however, I noticed that each component had a playful twist. Performers’ eyebrows, cheeks, and eyes were accentuated with sharp, black lines. Their wigs were not actually 18th-century inspired but instead stood up straight as if their wearers had been electrocuted.
Despite the array of color that flooded the stage once the curtain was finally raised, the visual spectacle was not what caught my attention immediately. Instead, I was most tickled by the “language” the performers spoke to communicate with each other and the audience.
I place language in quotes because I wouldn’t necessarily consider the sounds emitting from their mouths to be a language as much as I would call the vocalizations a series of spontaneous sonic bursts that reveal emotion through tone and volume. The cast also used exaggerated body language to translate feeling.
Whether it was a squeal of excitement or a mischievous cackle of someone clearly up to no good, the way these performers “spoke” made it easy for any audience member to understand the message–regardless of age, native language, or where they sat in the room.
In addition to the colorful collection of characters, Zarkana also includes an impressive live band. Their numbers–a mixture of rock and ethnic tribal music–propel each scene forward.
Photo by Veronica Chavez.
While it’s hard to pinpoint an exact plot or theme to the show, I could say it is somewhat circus-centric. Some of the acts presented included juggling, flying trapeze, aerial hoops, high wire, Russian bar, and hand balancing.
Most enjoyable about the acrobatic performances was that I could tell the performers were truly giving it their all. Sometimes in such acts, the tricks and skills viewers see appear so easy for the acrobats. While this is partly true of Zarkana, there were two specific instances during the performances in which an aerial artist fell or tripped.
While the gasps from the audience boomed through the room, I don’t believe anyone truly lost respect or the sense of awe from the fumbles. In fact, the mishaps made me respect them even more.
I was overall very impressed with the performance and am looking forward to seeing more of what the Cirque du Soleil series has to offer.