Cirque Du Soleil: Swinging in the air

Though its “Bazzar” lacks the vibrancy that we expect from an Indian marketplace, Cirque Du Soleil presents a new curve in the history of leisure

In mid-August as news came that the famed Cirque Du Soleil (CDS) is coming to India, a whiff of excitement gripped the people who heard not only about the fabulous creative production that had taken the world by storm; but several had read the story of its rise from an initiative of street artists to becoming one of the most successful stories of entertainment industry. From the lively decorated tent one entered into the performance area, dark and mysterious, a palpable verve of expectation gripped the audience.

The show began, with astonishing light and sound design amidst which leapt figures, fire players, death defying stunts, flying and rolling in the air. Yes, the coming of (CDS) is a landmark to gauge the emerging urban market of the creative entertainment industry in New India. A model of the Modern Circus, the CDS has no animal acts and is a spectacular display of an amalgamation of captivating skills and wonder of technical production. The CDS featured as a prime business case study in the milestone work titled ‘Blue Ocean Strategy’ by W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne. The strategy projects winners rather than mere survivors where a product succeeds in a market where there is no pricing pressure due to lack of no or little competition. In a country like India which although has a wide range of traditional leisure activity, the presence of repackaged modes of entertainment is transformative and presents the trajectory of a new curve in the history of leisure.

Family product

Brought by Bookmyshow, the maiden 3-month tour of CDS comprises 68 shows in Mumbai and in Delhi until 20th January. The premium entertainment family product titled ‘Bazzar’ is aimed at the moneyed, urban, digitally-tuned Indian dweller and is a family activity. The show opened in Delhi’s emerging cultural hub, Aerocity, with surreal acts, a cultural display where the audience sat on their chair edge in sheer wonder laced with wild expressions of the wolf whistle.

The visiting CSD team of 62 performers comprises cast and crew from over 13 countries with equipment weighing over 600 tonnes. The theme of the show by reputed writer-director Susan Gaudreau is power-play. The protagonists are the Master of Ceremony, called the maestro, a mini maestro and a floating lady. The maestro’s power rests in the ownership of a hat from whom the couple – floating lady and the mini master seek to seize power by taking away the hat. The couple hopes to distract the maestro with an assembly of acts exhibited with live music. The production was defined by stunning human performances, state-of-the-art costumes, captivating live music and astonishing staging comprising skills of roller skate, tight rope walk, trapeze, acro-sports, acts of the bicycle and teeterboard (acrobatic act on a seesaw apparatus) and fire players. In the end, the Maestro presents the hat to the mini master.

The evidence of professionalism and the reflection of the sheer physical strength of the artists testified the detailed attention given to talent, practice, discipline, and nutrition.

The company has a huge following, the remarkable character of its production marked by details in multi-layered design of costumes, acts, choreographic presentations that leave the audience agog seeing the high level of skills with performers swinging in the air, leaping across, and live musicians accentuating the high tension effect.

The Indian element

The inclusion of two Indian artists (both Rajesh) saw the portrayal of the Indian traditional skill Malkhamb (gymnastic feat centred on a wooden pole or rope). The cultural context of the sport is wrestling where it’s part physical training to develop strength, stamina, flexibility, and focus. Like most traditional Indian skills, elements of spirituality and yoga are an inherent part of the art. Says Rajesh, “With the help of Ben Potvin, Acrobatic performance Designer, and Simon Fortin, our trainer, we created the act retaining the strong spiritual persona.” The artists, interestingly,perceive themselves as sportsmen and were associated with aerial acts in the Indian Terence Lewis Contemporary Dance Company for over two decades before joining the Cirque.

A critique

Set up in a large tent with a capacity of 1500 people, the circular area took on an appearance of a proscenium since the fourth side was for sets and live musicians among other things. The story could be inspired by the humble beginning of the story of the CDS where co-founders Guy Laliberté and Gilles Ste-Croix, who were part of a stilt-walking street show in 1984, envisioned a canvas of sleek curated acts which today has emerged as a shorthand name for a premium theatrical artistic productions engaged in different parts of the world.

It is also mentioned elsewhere that the story of the production was inspired by the bazaar phenomenon in India. However, if that was the case, the seminal vibrancy of the Indian bazaar was lacking against the predominantly dark background. Although most audiences were mesmerised by the spectacle of superhuman acts, large numbers did not follow the storyline, the dialogue delivery and audience participation were much below the standard. The rasa defined in Indian aesthetics as the spirit and mood was dominated by adhbut (surprise, suspense) and vir (bravery). The hasya – (humor) which is so integral to create comic relief amidst high tension displays was deficient.

Asian countries likeChina have invested in recreating counter indigenous versions like Cirque Shanghai; while Vietnam (Cirque du Vietnam) and Cambodia (Phare) who have historically reconstructed their non-existent economies too have successful indigenous adaptations, ones that not only cater to high-end consumers but have factored a more inclusive strategy to profit from the wealth at the bottom of the pyramid. The CDS production is after all a premium product, but it is hoped that the entry of CDS will motivate the Make in India spirit awaken to tap the potential of the dormant Elephant to trumpet for making its own indigenous version of Cirque India!

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