Cirque du Soleil
Commonwealth Avenue, Boston
June 1-12, 2022
One always appreciates the highly developed relationship between inventiveness of design, sophisticated music, choreography and the highest forms of circus artistry that go into all Cirque du Soleil shows. It is always amazing to see what show comes next, because it is likely to be completely different from what has come before, and will add a new and unique twist. This is most certainly the case with Crystal, performed indoors, on ice, at BU’s Agannis Arena.
The narrative premise – like that in so many Cirque du Soleil shows – is just enough to get the themes and characters off the ground without weighing things down too much. Here, Crystal, a young girl, falls through the ice into a magical netherworld where she explores the depths of herself until she finally realizes it’s time to return home. That world is certainly a shocker, but a totally delightful one. All the gestures of the creatures who live in that deep recess of her discovered location are shaped by a magic hand. They glide in all dimensions with an astonishing grace.
This is a show on the ice, of course, and it’s actually unbelievable that the troupe manages what it does largely on skates. There is the usual roster of bouncing and flipping, but here, the takeoff and landing are from and to the ice. In between the flips and the gyrations are the coordinated and unbelievably wonderful swings of the limbs that array themselves in endless combinations across the oval world of this rink.
On top of that rink is build another world – of ramps, of poles, of ice castles, of all sorts of contraptions that provide a vehicle for the fabulously talented skaters and acrobats to do their thing.
There is one scene in which a gaggle of hockey player types scream around the rink, soar up and over various ramps, do flips, rise high onto promontories and soar back down. They are like a hive of wonderful bees – or something icier – darting all over the place. There is enormous energy in their collective effort.
Another scene shows a group of skaters adorned in ties and vests, carrying attache cases. Merely the way they swing the cases in rhythm makes one think of a very hip Busby Berkeley scene in which everything moves but falls into place. Here, they form only part of the action. The rest is – who knows what – a couple ascending a pole, hockey players scooting over ramps – or the various manifestations of the protagonists, Crystal – of which there are usually two, but sometimes four – zipping around and encircling the other goings-on.
It would be hard to enumerate all of the exciting moments of the two and a half hour show, but here are some of them –
A truly amazing juggler bounces and elevates three or five balls with such speed and flexibility and seeming assurance that is hard to believe. At one point he comes out on top of a huge drum and bounces the balls on its surface. When that is not enough, he sends the balls four or five feet below him to the floor. He appears not to break a sweat during the whole thing.
A couple on a single rope do the most fabulously graceful air-dance one could imagine – incredibly sensual, delicate to a T, refined, extreme in its risks, beautiful.
A fiddler goes at with fury, at a variety of points, but with incredible gusto right at the end. How does he play that fast, and that well?
A slight woman elevates on and bends around her single arm which supports her whole body as she conforms to the curvature of space around her.
On poles used alternately as climbing structures and swings, acrobats move up and down, and fly from one to another.
Clowns come and go in a sweetly entertaining but non-obtrusive way.
That is just a small taste of what is here, excitingly and energetically performed, and here are a few additional notes on how the performance unfolds –
A small band – violin, accordion, triangle, clarinet – starts things off, with a slow, waltzy, Klezmer-like feel. A clown appears with snowballs that he throws into the audience. The music picks up with an interesting syncopated beat. The violinist takes off with a kind of jazzy polka. A couple of clowns – one juggling, one with a can over his head – appear; and then there is a culmination of wildly spinning skaters.
Things get interesting, with combinations of different groups on the ice – some with attache cases, others with desks! And now there are two Crystals dancing gracefully together. The solo improvising clarinetist comes onto the ice. And then there is the juggler – and what a juggler he is – while skating, managing a set of three or five balls with great dexterity and speed, then bouncing the balls off of the ice as well as convulsing them in the air. And then he is on top of a drum, bouncing away – incredible – with five balls. He drops some, leaves pairs at a time to bounce, then retrieves them all. Unbelievable.
A clown spills his carriage and then dances with a single lamp in a beautiful slow waltz. One of the Crystals gets on a high swing – pretty scary. Beautiful rainbow projections set the scene for a fanciful segment.
Such wonderful costumes in every quarter – even the hockey costumes are interestingly offbeat.
A pseudo English country dance with hockey sticks preludes a bunch of skaters going crazy over the ramps – very exciting with flips and spins of all sorts. As though that were not enough, they sometimes pass balls to one another, screaming up to a high perch, then screaming back down over the ramps.
Then part II –
The Crystal House at the end of the rink becomes more accentuated and visibly lit up. A passel of skaters in ties and vest come out – sometimes a huge number at the same time. They erect vertical bars, and all of a sudden some of the acrobats hold themselves out entirely by their arms from the bars – ouch! Then the bars are swinging, and, as techno music takes over, wonderful choreography pairs with the trapeze work full of energy and grace.
A slight woman with incredible strength raises herself by a single arm and flips around in all sorts of ways. All of a sudden, there’s an office, and skaters are gesticulating with pseudo-typing gestures, while one of the Crystals sits in the ice palace perched on her side in midair doing something similar.
A lovely waltz with four couples takes over and a portable ice piano slides out into the middle, followed by a wonderfully choreographed and exquisitely graceful duet on a trapeze, an incredible collaboration of skating and aerial work. The fellow in this pair is particularly extraordinary – he turns, twists, bends – a wonderful and romantic piece.
After one of the Crystals does a stunning suspended aerial twist routine, the violinist does a flabbergasting fast finale. Crystal returns home as she breaks her way through the ice, and her alter-ego traces by some electronic magic the words The End on the surface of the ice.
The show will be here for just under two weeks – catch it if you can – it’s a wonderful integration of all the things that make Cirque du Soleil great – choreography, beautifully folded-in circus acts, inventive and fun design, dazzling music, and just enough of a narrative to hang it all together.
– BADMan (aka Charles Munitz)-