Written by Kevin Baxter
Published: September 12, 2004 at 3:37 PM
"... and absolute whimsy to know the color of imagination." Pardon me, but I'm about ready to know the color of my stomach contents. Not that I don't think Cirque du Soleil (pronounced basically as Sirk doo So-lay) shows don't deserve fancy superlatives, but give me a break.
Okay, here is where I should probably admit to something: I am a Cirque du Soleil freak! My first show was their first resident show, which was Nouvelle Experience at the Mirage in Vegas. I was hooked. I saw every touring show after that: Alegria, Quidam, Dralion and the still new Varekai. I have seen both Vegas's O and Zumanity, as well as the king of the Strip, Mystere, three times.
Which may make you think I am sort sort of CdS dork who will like a show before I even set foot inside the tent. Not so. Dralion was a fairly weak show that was pretty much saved by its outstanding clowns. Quidam, contrarily, was a solid show that was almost brought down by its fairly dreadful clowns. Don't get me started on the all-over-the-place Zumanity. And, while many would be shocked at this statement, I think O is a major case of style over substance. Outstanding style, for sure, but the acts just aren't as involving as they are up the street at Mystere.
Or across the country at La Nouba. I saw the show for the second time this year and it has improved with age. But that also isn't surprising. CdS is famous for "fixing" shows as they get older. In my three Mystere viewings, the show was different - and better - on each subsequent visit.
La Nouba hasn't changed a whole bunch, but the few changes have improved it. The Cycles act (two guys doing tricks on bikes) has been moved to the Number Two position, which improves the flow greatly as it ties in more thematically to the amazing German Wheel routine (two guys rolling around in man-sized wheels) which opens the show. Before, the Cycles, while good, stopped the show as the sudden presence of bicycles and the uninteresting costumes the cyclists wear just didn't seem to fit in. Now the show's weird act is surrounded by the two greatest acts making it stand out less.
That other great act? The crowd favorite Diabolos, a foursome of adorable Chinese girls flinging about large yo-yo things while performing acrobatics. Ask anyone who has seen a CdS show, and the first thing most will refer to is one of the acts. The act most likely to be referred to in this show is the Diabolos. Not only is it the star of the show, but it is one of the star acts out of all the CdS repertoire. This were also the best act in Quidam which might explain why it is here.
CdS is very good at knowing what pleases the masses and many supposedly temporary acts end up in permanent shows. The German Wheel comes directly from Quidam as well, and the Aerial Ballet in Silk comes directly from... well, basically EVERY CdS show. This is definitely one act that needs a break. Or something new brought to the routine, which does occur in Zumanity.
In fact, the biggest complaint I have about La Nouba is how little innovation is brought to so many staples of the Cirque and circus worlds. Adding a wheel to the German Wheel routine has added many dimensions to that act. But, the Flying Trapeze has been done far better in other Cirque shows. Balancing on Chairs hasn't changed much at all, and it wasn't all that thrilling to begin with. And the High Wire doesn't even bother to go beyond similar acts in lesser circuses. The dormant Nouvelle Experience had an extremely inventive rope-balancing act which could have easily been lifted from for this show.
And that irritates me as Nouvelle Experience is where La Nouba's finale derives from. The Power Track/Trampoline was/is a fantastic end to both shows. The floor opens to reveal an elongated X made of trampoline. Behind these tracks are regular trampolines and a multi-windowed "building" which performers jump onto and into. It's an amazing finish, especially after following several mostly unimaginative acts.
But it isn't just the acts that make the show work so well. The costumes are almost (ahem) "uniformly" inventive and attractive. The cyclist attire may be the first outfits out of CdS that I haven't admired. Attire aside, no one leaves a CdS show without understanding how big a part the music plays. The Power Track/Trampoline number elevates a great act into one that is as close to perfect as you can get. In fact, I would argue that the music is often MORE important than the acts, as half the acts would be ho-hum without the accompanying score. Even when there isn't an act going on, the music is there.
Like the opening number. This is one of CdS's most stirring numbers and it starts the show off with a bang and a half. Add to that the movement of the performers (I don't want to call it "dancing"), and you have a Broadway-quality opener here. La Nouba has more "movement" than any show since Nouvelle Experience, if not the most ever. While most of the performers are there for their athletic abilities, it is nice to see something approaching dancing. Here, it is nothing more than marching across the floor in gulag-style outfits, but it adds so much to the performance and the story.
That's another place where La Nouba excels. While many CdS storylines are more surreal than logical (like Mystere) or too bare-bones (like O), this one is pretty much right out there. While still not all that literal, the ugliness-to-beauty theme (that has almost become a CdS staple too), is at least understandable. Which may have something to do with the WDW location. While Vegas visitors might be more than willing to overlook the significance of a mammoth snail (don't ask me... I still haven't figured that one out), a less sophisticated audience might be turned off.
I had typed "younger" before typing "less sophisticated" but La Nouba, like most CdS shows, won't interest kids much. Personally, I wouldn't take a child that hasn't reached the teen years yet. Maybe a precocious pre-teen, but no younger. I have seen far too many elementary-school-aged kids squirming in their seats, which worries me. An adult paying attention to an uninterested kid isn't going to focus enough on the performance and may end up badmouthing the show later, especially considering how much they paid for tickets. Even worse, fidgety kids that are being ignored by their parents can ruin the show for unrelated audience members in the area. If your kids can't sit through one of the short WDW live shows, they certainly won't sit through this. So please think before you bring.
But you SHOULD think about coming yourself. Especially if you are too far away from Vegas to catch the best CdS show. La Nouba is a close Number Two, and, with a little work, it could be the best. As much as I would love to give the show a 10, those minor nags force me to give it a 9 - Outstanding on the TPI Scale.
(You can buy tickets online at the WDW website or at 407-939-7719. Tickets are $59/$73/$85 (as of this writing) for anyone over 9 and $39/$49/$59 for kids 3 to 9. Though I wouldn't take any of them. The $73 seats may actually be the best in the house, as they allow you to take in the whole experience at once. Middle is much better than the sides, of course, but I would take a side at the $85 level before the middle of the $59 level, as long as it was closer to the middle section than the end.)