Flying Over Ice
Cirque du Soleil is famous for its incredible acrobatic circus shows. Now, with its new show, Crystal, the company is taking its amazing stunts onto the ice at San Jose’s Shark Tank.
Crystal is beautiful and breathtaking. It will make you cheer, clap and watch in open-mouthed amazement, particularly during the second act. While the show struggles at times to find the balance between acrobatics and ice-skating, the stunts along with beautiful set and costume design are enough to entrance audience members of all ages.
The plot (as much as there is one in a show meant to showcase physical prowess) is a familiar coming-of-age tale. Crystal, the show’s redheaded protagonist, is discontent with school and living by society’s rules. She “skates away from it all” only to fall through thin ice. Underwater, she has an Alice-in-Wonderland-esque adventure guided by her own reflection. Along the way she meets colorful characters and rebels against the status quo as she discovers who she is and who she wants to become.
But let’s be honest, you’re not coming for the plot. You’re coming to gawk at incredible athletes doing unbelievable things. Only this time if they fall, it’s onto an unforgiving block of ice.
The first act is beautiful, but frankly a little disparate and underwhelming. The story isn’t particularly clear and there’s a lot of focus on skating rather than the circus performances for which the company is known. The costume design is thoughtful and practical, and there are some cool projections on the ice that help to tell the story, but it’s nothing too unusual. Don’t get me wrong, every performer is great at what they do and execute their stunts with incredible precision. But so soon after the Winter Olympics in Pyongyang, the skating doesn’t feel particularly amazing, and Cirque du Soleil’s shows have trained us to expect the extraordinary.
In the second act, things got a lot more interesting. Performers climb up and down poles to jump and flip into each other’s arms and the skating becomes more free-spirited and emotionally charged. Furthermore, acrobatics are highlighted more than figure and speed skating.
The show is at its best when it embraces both parts of its identity, acrobatics and skating, rather than focusing on one or the other. The most magical moments in the show were when people came off of trapezes right onto the ice to interact with Crystal.
In the middle of act two, for example, there is a scene that has one performer in an aerial strap, interacting and lifting another performer on skates. It’s hauntingly beautiful and incredibly complex. Moreover, the performance is unlike anything you’ve ever seen before—one person flying in the air and another flying over the ice only to come together and break apart flawlessly. These scenes, where they mix ice and circus elements, are the most amazing and successful.
In this show, Cirque du Soleil tried something new with its music. In addition to the moving instrumental music tailored specifically to the show, the production also uses a few pop songs with lyrics including Sia’s Chandelier and Beyoncé’s Halo. While these songs accompany some of the show’s most moving moments, I’m not sure that the songs contributed to the scenes’ emotional impact. In fact, they probably detracted from the show for most of the audience. Don’t get me wrong, I love all four of the popular songs they used, particularly Nina Simone’s Sinnerman. But Cirque du Soleil’s traditional choices of music are much more tailored to the show and build with the action on stage, particularly when the musicians are performing it live. The pop music didn’t have the same connection to the performance and left some scenes not quite as strong as they could have been.
Overall, Crystal is cool in the same way that all of Cirque du Soleil’s shows are cool. They are the best way to see circus stunts, or in this case, circus stunts on ice. The show is not quite as amazing as some of the company’s other shows, and at times struggles to balance acrobatic and ice skating techniques. In the second act, however, the show seems to find itself, as the main character does the same.
Cirque du Soleil’s 42nd Production, Crystal, is playing at San Jose’s SAP Center Wednesday, March 28 through Sunday, April 1, 2018. The show runs about 2 hours including one intermission. Tickets range from $56 to $160. This is the only engagement of Crystal currently scheduled for Northern California.
Photos Courtesy of Matt Beard, Costumes: Marie-Chantale Vaillancourt, 2017 Cirque du Soleil