In 2000, The Simpsons parodically decimated Cirque du Soleil. Much to Homer's chagrin, the Simpsons take in Cirque de Purée, the "hauntingly beautiful" "circus full of whimsy and wonder." "I cannot get the lid off my jar of rainbows," laments a clown, before contortionists, acrobats, and jugglers do their thing. When the show becomes threatened by a storm, Homer yells, "Oh, no, you don't! I paid full price for this freak show. Now, nourish the child within me."
Since 1984, the Montreal based circus has entertained millions with a unique blend of music, dance, and stunts. There's no arguing with the troupe's unabated success, though the shows are just as undeniably gaudy. In some ways, Cirque du Soleil is the inheritor of Ed Sullivan's postmodern vaudeville. Eschewing animals for humanitarian reasons, Cirque du Soleil gathers an astonishing array of novelty artistes to perform in a variety of disciplines: gymnastics, acrobatics, pantomime, trapeeze, juggling, balancing acts, rope-work, ballet, modern dance, contortionism, cycling, and androgyny.
The latter is the sort of thing for which people mock Cirque du Soleil. The acts are amazing, but often dumbstrikingly weird, and always accompanied by a house band that leans to musak-y cheese. If it adds up to an act that makes David Copperfield seem subtle, Cirque du Soleil is self-aware enough about its pretention to spoof itself even as its keepers laugh all the way to the bank.
The bottom line is that wherever you find Cirque du Soleil, you'll find the most jaw-droppping show in town. Now, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment is bringing the excitement to living rooms with a DVD box set that—for the first time—gathers twelve discs spanning the troupe's career. Cirque du Soleil: Anniversary Collection—1984-2005 begins with 1986's La Magie Continue and ends with 2004's Midnight Sun (the bonus, twelfth disc). In between, you'll find the company's most famous touring shows (Saltimbanco, Alegría, Quidam, Dralion) and even the group's Ian McKellen-narrated foray into IMAX 3-D: Journey of Man.
The presentation here is excellent, and—not surprisingly—improves with age. The early discs have relatively weak videotape masters, but the later discs are mastered in high definition anamorphic widescreen. The shows gather up a head of showy steam, as well: the sets, staging, music, and lighting become more lavish and elaborate with the years. There's not a disc among the twelve that doesn't evince wonder, even though many of the shows ooze with pretension and stylistic excess.
Perhaps the stereotypical Cirque show, in this regard, is Quidam, the ambitious production that layered Fellini-esque surrealism over the troupe's usual roundup of acrobatics and clowning. Claptrap? Most definitely. Lacking in entertainment value? Hardly. Any excuse to showcase the performers' artistry will do.
The earlier shows have a charming simplicity about them in comparison, though they are no less impressive in their skill. Denis Lacombe's routine of a harried conductor flop-sweating his way through the "1812 Overture" for example, is a masterful pantomime (wait till he locks his feet into a trampoline for the big finish); historians will also enjoy the chance to compare the routine as performed in La Magie Continue and in its variation in the following year's Cirque Reinvente.
Featured in the set are La Magie Continue, Cirque Reinvente, Nouvelle Experience, Saltimbanco, A Baroque Odyssey (a ten-year retrospective), Alegría (with "Filming Alegría," "A Journey to Alegría: A Special," "A Different Perspective," "Meet the Artists" interviews, and a multi-angle option for some performances), Quidam, La Nouba, Dralion (with 23-minute "In the Heart of the Dralion" featurette), Journey of Man, Varekaï (with multi-angle option for some performances), and Midnight Sun (with "Encore," photo gallery, and "Then and Now: An Introduction to Cirque du Soleil"). The box also includes six commemorative postcards.
Priced by most retailers at around $100 and representing most of the company's output, Cirque du Soleil: Anniversary Collection—1984-2005 is a bargain for lovers of splashy, outré entertainment.
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