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Monday, June 27, 2011

A Circus Not Worth Flipping Over


Cirque du Soleil's 'Zarkana' is scheduled to run at Radio City Music Hall through Sept. 4.

CULTURE CITY, Wall Street Journal

JUNE 27, 2011.

I know it's not polite. I know I shouldn't do it. But when someone starts talking about how brilliant Cirque du Soleil is, I feel the need to present an alternate view.
It goes something like this: Cirque du Soleil is not theater, dance or any sort of performing art that expresses thoughts and emotions. It's a traveling Las Vegas act in which performers squeal gibberish and execute circus techniques with no regard for the rhythm of the very loud music. There is respectable athleticism in the physical tricks, and the visual projections can be impressive. Just don't kid yourself that you've experienced the performing arts. You've been to the circus—at opera prices.
This does not make me popular at dinner parties and family gatherings. And I'm OK with that. But what I fail to comprehend is why so many people continue to love Cirque du Soleil quite so much. What is it about this show that has thoroughly captured the public? Why are the performing arts—even the ones based on spectacle, such as ballet and opera—less able to connect with our common culture than Cirque du Soleil?
To find out, I bought a ticket and submitted to "Zarkana," the new show at Radio City Music Hall that opens Wednesday. (I had also seen a show on Randall's Island in 2003.) And just to recalibrate myself to a different sort of live entertainment, I also bought a seat on "The Ride," the 75-minute bus tour of Midtown Manhattan during which riders (positioned outward, facing the sidewalk, rather than straight ahead) witness performers on the street "spontaneously "breaking into song and dance.
After enduring both, I'll take the cornball antics and forced participation of "The Ride" over Cirque any day. And that discovery helped me understand the larger issue.


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