It all begins with an egg. Cirque du Soleil OVO is the new adaptation of the original production, reimagined from a big top show to an arena extravaganza. Equal parts fantasy and love story, OVO weaves a charming tale about the arrival of a mysterious egg in an insect colony and the unconventional romance between a fly and a lady bug. It also shares a deeper message of acceptance. We all deserve to be loved for who we are despite our differences.
Cirque du Soleil Creative Director Marjon Van Grunsven spoke with EU Jacksonville about bringing the magic of tiny insects to the big stage and helping OVO reach its full potential the second time around.
“Part of my rule is to make the show better every year, every day. But there were things that we didn’t have time to do. What if we were able to move the stage and have it revolve and move up and down? What if we brought it more inside the audience so the audience feels closer? When we learned that our show was going to going into an arena let’s say for another five years, we said ‘this is our chance to do everything we’ve always wanted to do and make it even bigger and more dynamic’. We changed a few of the acts and changed some of the costumes, some of the music. We have a whole new stage and we’ve added studio projections. I think this show deserves that opportunity to have a makeover and come out and reach more people that we weren’t able to with our big top. It’s been an amazing experience.”
The Brazilian musical score by composer Berna Ceppas gives OVO a whimsical and uplifting tone where many other productions have a darker vibe. “It’s very happy and very energetic. A lot of our other shows are stunning but often a bit dark and mysterious and you don’t understand exactly what the story is. Here, there is no way around it. You stumble upon a community of inspects. They have a leader called Master Flipo and this strange fly comes in one day and takes everyone’s breath away. Everyone steals away the eggs that he carries on his back and this fly falls in love with their sister, the lady bug. They have to test this fly and he has to go through all kinds of adventures to prove that he is worthy of the lady bug. It’s just so simple and funny and cute.”
Van Grunsven was hired as OVO’s artistic director in 2008 and took the show on the road until it’s final run in 2015. With such a limited window of existence compared to other Cirque shows – the Big Top show only ran for six and a half years – Van Grunsven says there wasn’t enough time to explore all of the possibilities. Bringing OVO back to life as an arena event opened that window and allowed the creative team to dig deep into the “bag of secrets that we had on the side’.
OVO is a physically demanding undertaking with various components and moving parts. There are 50 performing artists from 12 different countries all specializing in wondrous feats of acrobatics to portray the dragonfly, fleas, butterflies, mosquito, firefly, scarabs, crickets and cockroaches. For Van Grunsven, the challenge was the marriage between the physicality of the players and the stunning visual beauty of the show.
“We have nine acrobatic acts that will blow your mind and keep you on the edge of your seat,” she says. “That is something you can always expect from a Cirque du Soleil show.”
“What are we going to use for inspiration? It was decided that the central theme of the new show would be insects. Conversations started to take place. How to do make people move like inspects? We had lots of workshops and lots of research and we just came together. We started casting and had a lot of fun,” she says. “We had to find a costume designer and a make-up designer and a composer and a sound designer, etc. They really gathered all these people together and started sitting around the table and created an inspiration board. They started looking at insects and they thought how can we make this into a family-oriented, family-friendly show? We said let’s just start by looking at real inspects.”
For inspiration, the team watched the 1996 film “Microcosmos” which is a documentary by Claude Nuridsany and Marie Pérennou featuring insect life in a series of incredible close-ups, slow motion and time-lapse photography. “It’s a gorgeous documentary which zooms in on the lives of inspects and the way they move, the way they eat, the way they reproduce, give birth, all that stuff. That gave them a nice inspirational board on the wall.”
“They started choosing the type of acrobats they wanted to work with. Slowly, a love story started to develop between a ladybug and a fly. It’s silly and really funny at the same time.”
With the help of Brazilian choreographer Deborah Colker, who is known for her work on large scale sets, they broke it down even smaller to the movements and characteristics on the individual inspects. A cricket, for example, is able to jump 300 times their own body height. Van Grunsven says OVO employed Olympic trampolinists to reproduce that element on stage. Ants always work, carrying things on their back and walking in line formation. Chinese foot jugglers illustrate the movement and purpose of the ants by juggling food and other acrobats on their feet.
“That’s how it started,” she says. “They started choosing the type of acrobats they wanted to work with. Slowly, a love story started to develop between a ladybug and a fly. It’s silly and really funny at the same time.”
Besides the acrobatics, one of the hallmarks of a Cirque du Soleil show is the costuming. “They are so intricate and complicated and so well-thought out. You really get a sense of the 3D when you look at them,” she says. “They are all handmade and it’s just fascinating to work with.”
One of the challenges involved fitting the performers with the inventive insect costumes. While visually stunning, the original prototypes were restricting the movements of the performers. “They were gorgeous but when we put them on a contortionist and she couldn’t dance. Those are challenges but that’s what you can expect from a creation of this magnitude. You have to have those challenges in order to find the perfect costume for these artists to do what they do. Keep them safe and looking beautiful.”
OVO blurs the lines between science and showmanship but not in the most literal sense. Van Grusven says Colker and her team didn’t want to lose the fantasy aspects of the show and was mindful not to overindulge in biological fact.
“That was one part that we really thought about. Deborah is a creator that likes simplicity. She didn’t want it to be too scientific. It is a fantasy and we are looking at bugs,” says Van Grunsven. “But it doesn’t tell the story of the evolution of insects. It really tells a love story about a fly that falls in love with a lady bug. It’s totally impossible and a fantasy. But in the same token, there is also a story of acceptance in life. You don’t judge someone based on their color, or their size or gender or sexual preference. You could go very deep but what we really wanted was for people to have fun. And yes, children and the adults hopefully, when they walk away from our show and they see real insects in life, maybe they won’t crush them right away. That would be nice.”