Words and pixels by M. Scott Smith

Behind the Scenes: Cirque du Soleil "O" 🔗

Cirque du Soleil's "O" is a permanent fixture at the Bellagio Resort in Las Vegas. At the time of its launch in the late 90's, O was the most expensive production ever produced. Unlike other Cirque du Soleil productions, O takes place above, on, and under water. It's my favorite theatrical show (I have now seen it four times), combining art, music, talent, and technology into a beautiful production. It was my first exposure to Cirque du Soleil, and prompted me to see Mystere, La Nouba, Dralion, and Varekai. Next spring, I'll be traveling to Montreal to be one of the first to see Cirque's latest traveling production, tentatively titled Cirque 2005. Every show I've seen has been excellent, but as a technology geek, I find O to be the most impressive, holding the most mystery and allure for me.

Entertainment Design published an article in 1999 describing The Wizardry of O: Cirque du Soleil Takes the Plunge Into an Underwater World. The article has been around awhile, but I only recently came across it, and I devoured all the details about how O was put together, and the challenges faced during the production.

Two of the coolest scenes in O are right at the beginning and right at the end of the show. I won't give away the magic, but it involves how the main curtain disappears and reappears. Until I read the above article, I didn't realize the starting curtain wasn't the ending curtain. (I also had no idea how the effect was performed.)

With a 1.5 million gallon pool of water that regularly appears and disappears throughout the production, you can imagine the technical problems Cirque had to solve: how to move large amounts of water and staging without making noise; how to keep the smell of chlorine from filling the theater; how to have so many electronic systems and lighting so close to water; and, generally, how to avoid killing the performers as they interact with lots of moving, high-force elements.

Cirque's latest fixed production, titled Ka and located at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, pushes the envelope even further. Ka will be "soft opening" later this fall, and replaces O as the most expensive stage production ever produced in the world. Apparently Ka doesn't include a stage in the traditional sense; platforms will magically appear out of fog and move towards the audience. Ka is behind schedule, originally slated to open about a year ago, so like O, I'm sure Cirque has had to figure out how to do even more things that have never been attempted before in a live production. Can't wait to see the new show.

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