Cirque du Soleil’s latest spectacle is technically proficient but strangely passionless, a garish spectacle over-produced to within an inch of its life.

Co-founded in 1984 by former accordionist, stilt-walker and fire-eater Guy Laliberté (whose personal wealth is now estimated at US $2.6 billion, according to Forbes Magazine), Cirque du Soleil is a globally successful entertainment brand, with an estimated annual income exceeding US $810 million thanks in part to popular touring productions such as OVO, which opened in Melbourne last night.

Based purely on the skill level of its participants, OVO – a fantastical, anthropomorphised view of the insect world; Microcosmos with acrobats – is spectacular in the extreme. However it is also strangely passionless, a garish spectacle over-produced to within an inch of its life and almost entirely lacking in emotion and drama.

At its best – such as the flawless foot juggling routine and Icarian games (a circus art in which the performers juggle one another) performed by the red ants (Cheng Jinna, Dong Mimi, Han Jing, Su Shan, Wang Shaohua and Zhu Bayou) in the first act – OVO is deeply impressive. At other times, despite the Brazilian-influenced live music, colourful costumes and dramatic production design (which includes two vast flowers slowly opening above the stage) the show fails to impress. The few moments of genuine wonder are interspersed with bland dance routines and clowning, to the point where the production feels padded and drawn out – sluggish, if you will – while the insectoid performances are so polished that there’s little sense of risk about proceedings. Nor is there any sense of personality to the work – OVO is deeply impersonal; less new circus, more corporate entertainment.

Highlights include an impressive aerial act performed just before interval by a group of scarab beetles (Artem Burnukin, Alexander Grol, Nina Kartseva, Roman Khayrullin, Konstantin Kolbin, Maxim Komlev, Aleksandr Mischenko, Evgeny Mitin, Andrey Shapin, Valeri Tomanov and Sarfabek Zardakov) and the climax of the show: an initially thrilling but slightly over-long group trampoline act, in which the crickets (Michel Boillet, Lee Brearley, Kasper Falkesgaard, Shaun Gregory, Laura Houson, Yahia Icheboudene, Roman Karpovich, Sébastien Laifa, Karl L’ecuyer, Ludovic Martin and Gary Smith) throw themselves about the stage as well as up and down an eight metre high vertical wall without artificial support (reminiscent of a very similar act performed in a previous Cirque show, Dralion).

Other elements, such as the short aerial silk act performed by Nadine Louis; the straps duo Svitlana Kashevarova and Dmytro Orel; Volodymyr Hrynchenko’s hand-balancing act; and a contortion routine by Svetlana Belova, Robyn Houpt and Nadine Louis, are proficient but underwhelming, as is the flimsy central narrative concerning a visiting fly (Barthélémy Glumineau), his mock-sparring with the beetle Master Flipo (Simon Bradbury) and his flirtations with the curvaceous ladybird (Michelle Matlock).

Compared to such energetic and artist-driven Australian circus companies as Circus Oz, Circa, Gravity and Other Myths, and The Candy Butchers, the empty spectacle of Cirque du Soleil does not impress; OVO is all art, no heart.  

Rating: 3 ½ stars

Cirque du Soleil present


Guide: Guy Laliberté

Writer, Director and Choreographer: Deborah Colker

Director of Creation: Chantal Tremblay

Set and Props Designer: Gringo Cardia

Costume Designer: Liz Vandal

Composer and Musical Director: Berna Ceppas

Lighting Designer: Éric Champoux

Sound Designer: Jonathan Deans

Acrobatic Equipment and Rigging Designer: Fred Gérard

Acrobatic Performance Designer: Philippe Aubertin

Makeup Designer: Julie Bégin

Le Grand Chapiteau, Melbourne Docklands

17 January – 24 March

Richard Watts is ArtsHub's National Performing Arts Editor; he also presents the weekly program SmartArts on Three Triple R FM, and serves as the Chair of La Mama Theatre's volunteer Committee of Management. Richard is a life member of the Melbourne Queer Film Festival, and was awarded the status of Melbourne Fringe Living Legend in 2017. In 2020 he was awarded the Sidney Myer Performing Arts Awards' Facilitator's Prize. Most recently, Richard was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Green Room Awards Association in June 2021. Follow him on Twitter: @richardthewatts