Ovo, the newest Cirque Du Soleil spectacular to fly into Brisbane, is a light-hearted love story swarming with energy. Artistic director Marjon Van Grunsven tells Anna Angel it’s a bug’s life for the cast and crew.
The sun rises, and an ecosystem of insects begins to stir. Into their midst enters a stranger carrying a large and mysterious egg. So begins this unique production from Montreal’s celebrated Cirque Du Soleil. Ovo might be the 25th production from these masters of contemporary circus, but Brazilian dancer and choreographer Deborah Colker is their first female creator and director. Her production, which opened in 2009, is one of only a few Cirque show to maintain an overarching narrative.
“It’s very sweet and simple to follow for young children, but also for older people and middle-aged people, and it’s just so pleasant and happy,” Ovo’s artistic director Marjon Van Grunsven says.
The family-friendly story, which sees a ladybug fall in love with a fly, is secondary to the main inspiration for the piece: movement. From the pulsating rhythmic music, to the flexible, adjustable costumes, every aspect of the show celebrates the distinctive and fascinating motion of the insect world.
Ovo has all the breath taking acts you might expect, but each adopts a creepy-crawly persona that befits their style of movement. Foot jugglers become hard-working ants, a team of scarabs perform a Russian swing act, an aerial duo transform into graceful butterflies, crickets leap and bound off an eight-metre vertical wall, and a spider dangles dangerously from a slackwire web.
Under Van Grunsven’s guidance, the performers shed their human mannerisms entirely.
“The way [Deborah Colker] works is very much the way I work as well, which is to inspire each and every individual on that stage to dive into the role of their particular insect,” she says. “Let’s take a cricket; we wanted them to study the movement of the cricket by watching films and photos, and going out in nature and watching them for real.”
Of the show’s 54 performers, only three have previous theatre experience. Van Grunsven explains that part of her job was to help them evolve from acrobats, performers or even Olympians, to artists.
“It is a constant challenge because we expect the artist to continue to develop their characters. We want them to find new things, we want them to keep researching, and we want them to be aware that if they go out of that role of the insect, they immediately become a human being and the magic is lost.”
Life for the creative team under the trademark blue and yellow Big Top is just as varied and colourful as the insect ecosystem they replicate. Van Grunsven works an average 65 hour week chiselling the show down to perfection, constantly tweaking small details, and keeping it fresh for new audiences.
“As we say in Holland – and I’m Dutch – we keep putting the dots on the ‘I’, because it needs to be perfect every day,” she says, exhibiting the dynamism the ex-dancer and choreographer seems to apply to every aspect of her life and work.
“What I try to do is to remind people of the blessed life they live, being able to entertain 2,600 people every day, and to keep tickling their passion.”
Admittedly, when you’re in the circus business, spirits are naturally high.
“We have such a wonderful cast – they all really want to be here, they all really love what they do, so it’s really not that difficult to keep them on their toes,” Van Grunsven says.
Ovo, which hit its 1,000th performance in January this year, features a thrilling 14-metre flying trapeze act, making it the highest Cirque has ever presented. Even that is constantly being challenged and developed.
“We’re so excited to have it,” Van Grunsven says, “we’re always asking how we can make it bigger; what else is possible.”
Traditional circuses always saw the crowds roll up, but Cirque’s creative, artistic twist has truly redefined what the classic form of entertainment means today. Van Grunsven explains she was a fan of the ‘Circus of the Sun’ long before she joined their ranks.
“It’s a mixture of so many different types of art, and it’s all fused together in such a brilliant way that you just don’t realise that they all work together in a very cohesive and smooth manner,” she says.
“It caresses your heart and soul when you sit inside that Big Top and you can feel the excitement, the concentration and focus of the artists and technicians; you’re inside this big bubble and you become a part of it all.”
When the 170-strong Cirque extended family heads to Brisbane next month, we might never look at an ant’s nest the same way again.
Ovo runs from July 14 to September 2 at Northshore Hamilton. Tickets from www.premier.ticketek.com.au.