I once related tents with the circus. But never again. From the far end of the parking lot, it is plain and simple looking. Immense white sheets placed on high-rising poles with only white flags to decorate the highest points. Everyone migrates toward the entrance, holding the hands of their spouse and children, wondering what exciting thing awaits them inside. All I wonder is how hot it will be once we’re inside and how long I’ll be able to tolerate it.
Arriving early, we discovered a plethora (how I love that word) of merchandise. Everything was arranged and propped up just so. It seemed as though every product available had something to brag about. The T-shirts, the posters, the hand-painted masks–all of them saying something to the effect of, “You might purchase me, but I’m still better than you.” With every turn around the corner, I began to wonder, What is Cirque Du Soliel, and why have I never heard of it before? Crafty and colorfully made clown hats and bright red berets. Everything was labeled in French with tiny text below translating in English–suddenly my own language became the lesser and I really loved how that made me feel.
A man with a jester’s hat stood at a podium in the center of the food court area, holding a program in one hand and a CD in the other. Screaming words like “fantastic!” “mystical!” “unbelievable!” and others. His voice boomed over our heads and I watched as mom rushed over to purchase her own copies. She threw down $35 for the items and expected no change in return. There were worse things she could have spent it on. Like a hot dog for $6 or a framed picture of two acrobats for $275.
Once we’d finished entertaining our eyes’ appetite, we directed ourselves toward the center of the tent. The usher, dressed in black, took us to our seats, which happened to be positioned behind a huge pillar-like structure that had three purposes, 1) to support the tent, 2) to seat the lighting man, and 3) to block our view. Throughout the show, all four of us (my parents, brother, and me) were forced to shift our head positions from left to right regularly in order to see whatever we could around the pillar. Despite this particular annoyance, it hardly stopped us from enjoying a truly amazing performance.
Even before it had officially begun, there were three clowns amidst the audience making the wait seem non-existant. A heavier clown wearing enormous orange pants with suspenders held an even bigger box loaded with popcorn. He made his way through the audience chairs, stomping on people’s feet and “accidentally” spilling popcorn down the fronts of their shirts. With every person he tripped over or smacked, he would throw out a gloved hand as if to apologize profusely and he would continue down the isle. Another clown with a white fuzzy wig and a yellow tie so long it dragged on the ground, fluttered about the audience members with a run-down suitcase filled with who-knows-what. He was a meloncholy character with black eyeliner to make his eyes droop, a white face, and a bright red nose. He was by far my favorite clown.
The show started with a 6-member band who played their own instruments. Their costumes were all white, as well as their instruments, and they marched together, playfully following a leader with a pudgy belly and a hump on his back. He dressed in red and carried a buton and he smiled and kicked his feet out in front of him, leading the music down the isles of the audience, as if placing each note down the line of a scale. There was a keyboardist, a guitarist, and bassist, a saxiphone player, a drummer, and a tiny girl played the accordian. Their make-up was incredible, with rosy cheeks and blue lips, and hair dyed white that stood up on end. They played and they would stop and the red band leader would reach for the hand of a young woman and he would dance with her for a short time and she would laugh and blush and you knew she was thinking, Everyone’s looking at me. I hope I look good and after the band leader guided her back to her seat, you knew she was thinking, Wow, that was fun.
The show is a giant mix of different acts. All incredible. All breathtaking. All magical. Candy for all the senses. A cast of characters ran about the stage, each of them knowing exactly what to do at every second of the show. Everything about them was exaggerated and over-done. Their thighs and butts were made huge and the noses on their masks were a foot long. Each one had their own personality. Not one was alike to the other, despite looking identical to each other.
There was a woman dressed in a silver gown who sang beautifully and in French. She glided across the stage throughout the night and seemed to tell the story of each artist as they performed. A contortionist twisted her body in and out and folded her spine completely in half. To be a contortionist is something natural–you can only train yourself so far, but unless you have it in your genetic structure, you are quite limited. Who knows how many naturally-born contortionists there are in the world who would rather pursue the life of a computer programmer instead of an entertainer. A group of men and women ran across the stage and bounced from one end to the other on trampolines hidden beneath the stage floor. My dad later said it was his favorite part of the whole thing. A man who flew across the tent with his wrists bound by bungees. A dancer who passed fire through his hands and could even lick the flames with his tongue without causing him any sort of harm. There was a man who could balance his entire body with one hand, shifting his weight in such an unnatural way, it was almost too difficult to watch. Trapeze artists, flying gymnasts, and high bar flyers… This hardly explains the detail of what I saw today.
My favorite part of Cirque Du Soliel involved my favorite character–the clown with the white fuzzy wig. It started quietly in the dark, with a few members of the orchestra playing. The percussionist tapped a cow bell and the accordian player played a few keys… The clown waddled on stage with his suitcase dragging across the floor. He reached center-stage and looked up toward the audience with a sort of tired and longing expression. The lights came up and behind him was a drape, blue with little yellow stars and a quarter-moon, obviously indicating that for the clown, it was night time. To his left there was a rope hanging from one of the poles. He bent over to open his suitcase, flipped the top and two tiny white baloons floated out and flew gently to the ceiling. He watched them as they went. He reached back into his suitcase and pulled out a black coat and hat. He took them to the rope and hung them there. He stared at them a moment, then he slipped his right arm into one of the sleeves and wrapped it around himself, creating the illusion of dancing with someone under the stars. He closed his eyes and pressed his face against the collar of the coat. He swayed to and fro in a romantic and sad fashion. The whole audience could feel how lonely he was… But soon the clown realized how silly it was (to dance with a coat) and crossed over to the suitcase and plopped himself on top of it. He stared back at the coat and I knew that if this clown had real thoughts, he would certainly be thinking I wish there was another clown wearing that coat… A pretty clown… Suddenly, tiny pieces of tissue paper started to fall from above him. Kyle and I tried to see where they were coming from, but it was too dark. Soon, the tissue was falling rapidly and in abundance, creating a snowy scene all around him. The clown continued to sit, he pulled his coat tightly around him and when he did, everyone watching felt colder. The music continued to build, but it matched the scene perfectly. There was a sudden “gust of wind” sounding over the music, and I wondered what was happening. The sound of the wind grew stronger and the clown’s expression turned from sadness to fright. There was one last gust when the clown jumped up, turned around, and there in the dark was an immense fan directly in front him (but we could not see it) blowing the tissue snow and the hanging drape in his direction. It was a blizzard of white tissue paper! And it overwhelmed the tent! Tissue was in our hair and down our shirts! Everyone watched in amazement as everything and everyone was pulled into this blizzard! It was unexpected and quite fulfilling because we were not only watching the show, but we were part of it.
Immediately following was the intermission. Mom and I went out to the bathrooms. We stood in line together and we discussed the different items for sale. Mom smiled at me and proudly mentioned that she’d bought a red foam clown nose for $3. When I asked her why, she shrugged and replied, “Because you never know when you’ll need one.”
If Cirque Du Soliel comes anywhere near your area, do yourself a favor and buy a ticket. Because you never know…