Cirque du Soleil’s newest Las Vegas show melds mesmerizing acrobatics with surreal characters
By Susan Stapleton
Photos by Richard Termine
Magician Zark has lost the love of his life, Lia, his former assistant, and during his journey to find her, he encounters a magical world of ghosts from his circus past. Thus a new era of Cirque du Soleil comes to Las Vegas, this time as Zarkana, opening at the 1,840-seat Zarkana Theatre at Aria Nov. 1.
Think of the acrobatic performance as a sideshow circus that signifies Cirque du Soleil’s return to its roots. “We’re coming back to the original big numbers (and) big acrobatics,” says Zarkana’s artistic director Ann-Marie Corbeil, who has worked with Cirque du Soleil since opening Las Vegas’ first production, Mystère, in 1993. “The content of the show is based on the numbers. Some are so specialized you won’t see them anywhere else in the world.”
Indeed, the show contains some incredibly interesting acts, some of which audiences “maybe have never seen in their life,” Corbeil says. Zarkana opens with a performer who juggles anything but traditional balls and creates sounds by bouncing objects off boxes, stairs and more. Joined at her hip is a body percussionist. “It creates quite an opening scene,” Corbeil says.
Another act climbs ladders (up to 30 feet tall) and balances on them, while later more performers walk a high wire and play with fire the entire time.
The show gets its name from a fusion of bizarre and arcana, referring to the strange atmosphere behind the show and its characters. The main story line takes Zark on a journey to find his love and, along the way, he’s seduced by four Mutant Ladies and led down the road of discovery by the Movers, white clowns who keep him traveling down the right path.
The show contains original characters as bizarre and original as the new circus acts that are coming to Las Vegas for the very first time. Rather than a bearded lady, Cirque brings the Pickled Lady; Mandragora, an incarnation of the ivy in the theater; Kundalini, the snake woman; and Tarantula, the spider woman. All are the creation of the Mad Scientist, the nemesis of Zark.
The show originally opened at Radio City Music Hall in New York and spent time at the State Kremlin Palace in Moscow and the Madrid Arena in Madrid before landing the permanent residency at Aria, following the closing of Viva ELVIS in August. In October, 65 semi-trucks carted the entire set from New York to Las Vegas in dramatic fashion.
Since then, the production crew has worked to transform the theater into the circus world of Zarkana with three hand-sculpted arches making up the set. Each represents three of the four Mutant Ladies. The Kundalini arch features hand-painted resin “snakes.” The second arch, Mandragora, has plantlike arms and a video screen. Then there’s the third arch, decked out in technological gears and pulleys for Pickled Lady, created by the Mad Scientist’s experiments.
In essence, Zarkana marks a return to the bizarre and much-loved Cirque du Soleil tradition of death-defying and mind-bending theatrical acts.