Cirque du Soleil, the entertainment behemoth created by Guy Laliberté, is a binary creature—you either like its fusion of ballet and death-defying acrobatics or you don’t. Zarkana, which has returned for a second, slightly trimmed-down stint at Radio City Music Hall, pushes the show’s dark edges even further. But Cirque haters beware: You’d be missing out to avoid it. Zarkana, written and directed by François Girard, achieves an effect that borders on rapture.
Though story is only a peripheral requirement for this kind of spectacle, there is one here: Zark is a magician (played by Christian Goguen on the night I saw the show) navigating a haunted old theater where he has been trapped for years, longing to reunite with the love of his life. Along the way, he encounters ballerinas, mad scientists, French soldiers and even escaped prisoners.
Stéphane Roy has created a mammoth set in which even the pieces come to life: one arch morphs into a series of writhing snakes; another is a plant-like being with long, snaking arms; a third arch utilizes a pulley system. Along the way, Zark meets curiously exotic females (all portrayed by Meetu Chilana) displaying a distinctly non-human amount of derring-do. Those looking for a linear path from one sketch to the next will be at a loss. There’s no order of events, nor can one always decipher what the show’s characters are singing about—none of which really matters.
The crux of Zarkana, however, is the stunt work that Girard has created, and there are some real doozies here. For example, the Wheel of Death finds Junior Delgado and Carlos Martin moving upright on two rapidly spinning spheres. Anatoly Zalevskiy similarly fights gravity by balancing himself on his hands. And Carole Demers, supported by Johnny Gasser and Yuri Kreer, displays stunning feats on the Russian Bar. Meanwhile, feet firmly planted at all times, Erika Chen dazzles with her clever sand painting.
Girard moves these vignettes along at a quick clip; no scene lasts too long. And Chilana and Goguen make for a dynamic duo—Chilana’s gorgeous voice haunts the cavernous Radio City space. Nor can one cannot understate Girard’s visual grandeur. His use of LED screens and ability to fill the venue’s enormous volume create some hypnotic visuals, including such menaces as snakes and spiders. Dark as it is, Girard works hard to make sure that the show remains family-friendly before verging on being frightening.
Those intending to see Zarkana—as all should—would do well to stay hungry. This production is a feast for the senses.
Through Sept. 2, Radio City Music Hall, 1260 6th Ave., www.cirquedusoleil.com/en/shows/zarkana/default.aspx
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