Sunday 22 September 2019

Magical flying circus that cured me of my terror of clowns

Loveable creatures abound in a show that's a riot of colour and breathtaking routines, writes Anne Marie Scanlon

Cirque du Soleil’s ‘Ovo’ is from October 10 to 16 at the 3 Arena
Cirque du Soleil’s ‘Ovo’ is from October 10 to 16 at the 3 Arena

Anne Marie Scanlon

Fear of clowns is such that the term "coulrophobia" was specifically minted to explain it.

My own coulrophobia is firmly rooted in experience. Bear with me. When I was very small, my mother took me to the circus.

A large nail sticking out of the bench we sat on ripped a massive hole in my trousers (cords, if I remember) and it was sheer luck the same nail hadn't torn a large hole in me.

My mother, as you can imagine, was extremely upset. After the show, she went into the arena to have a word with the ringmaster. While they were talking, a pair of clowns were, quite literally, kicking around in the background.

Up close, their large feet were quite disturbing but when one of them smiled at me, and I saw his real mouth move in the opposite direction to his painted-on mouth, it was game over.

Since then I have loathed the circus and found clowns as funny as being hit repeatedly in the face with a plank.

Cirque du Soleil is not a traditional circus - it's famous for not exploiting animals - but even at Cirque there's no escaping clowns.

Imagine my shock when at Ovo, Cirque's latest show, the clowns were my absolute favourite. Instead of sitting with a face like setting porridge, I was doubled over laughing.

Actually it's unfair to say the clowns were my favourite - it's impossible to have a favourite at this show. Ovo is set in the world beneath our feet - between the blades of grass where colourful insects live and love. The story revolves around an outsider, a fly (Jan Dutler), who arrives in the insect community with a mysterious object on his back (an egg, the Ovo of the title). He then falls in love with a lady bug (Neiva Nascimento) who has the most fabulous handbag, shaped like a strawberry.

But there's, ahem, a fly in the ointment - a scarab beetle also thinks the lady bug is the bee's knees. (OK, I'll stop now).

All the outfits are fabulous. Costume designer Liz Vandal's beautiful, colourful creations easily identify the insects. The bright green crickets make a huge visual impact but that's nothing to when it comes to their scene-stealing wall walking, which is truly jaw-dropping. I almost had vertigo watching. All the while my brain kept doubting what my eyes were seeing. The show is packed with gasp-out-loud moments.

The bright red ants perform precision juggling with their feet using large "kiwi slices". These look flimsy but in reality are extremely heavy. Dropping one could cause serious injury, yet they are juggled between ants in such a seamless and easy way that Craig Revel Horwood would weep with joy.

In contrast, the flight of the butterflies by two performers clad in white, complete with wings and antennae, is a sensuous sexy dance that combines hand-to-hand ballet, contortions and an aerial flying act.

The pas de deux, in which they swoop and land, leap and fly in perfect unison, is a wonderful visual portrayal of love and lust without anyone removing their clothing.

The agility of the performers is nothing short of miraculous. They push their bodies to the very limit and make it look easy - like they're made of rubber and have no bones at all.

I've never felt so unfit in my life, especially when I witnessed a real live human quite literally bending over backwards - from the waist. (Not a word of a lie, I went home and did a few stretches before I went to bed).

The set, like the costumes, is a riot of colour and invention by Gringo Cardia.

In general, I'm a words person - I like stories laid out for me, with a plot I can follow.

With Ovo, there are few words and where they are uttered they make a huge impact.

The show is an incredible experience on so many levels and I can highly recommend Ovo as a unique and wonderful night out.

Cirque du Soleil's 'Ovo' is from October 10 to 16 at the 3 Arena

Sunday Independent

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