/ The Las Vegas Adventurer
Las Vegas — By Lynn Goya on December 10, 2009 at 2:17 am

Review: Vegas’ “O” Still the Best Theatrical Production in the World

The hottest ticket in town would be even hotter if it were not for the air conditioning in every fifth seat that cools the auditorium to a comfortable 68 to 70 degrees. While that may not seem as impressive a technical accomplishment as, say, adding little sticks and stones to the clouds of billowing smoke in the latest big budget movie explosion, since the stage area is kept at a sweltering 88 degrees, it is the kind of detail and innovative problem solving that makes “O” at the Bellagio a technical as well as a visual wonder.O image2

If you haven’t seen it yet, Cirque du Soleil’s third collaboration with Mirage/MGM allows the Canadian company to combine its grand artistic vision with the deep pocket of the casino giant. Instead of buying flashy special effects, though, technical innovations are used to subtly extend the physical limitations of reality, resulting in a evocative, dreamlike production, unlike any other stage show in the world.

“O,” a pun on “eau” the French word for water, is staged in, on, around and above a 150- x 100-foot, 1.5-million gallon pool that allows man to dive higher, spin faster, bend tighter and fly lighter than ever before, thanks to its ability to metamorphose faster than a cat can blink its eye. Seven moveable platforms invisibly rise and fall, transforming the floor space into endless shapes and sizes. With this kind of flexibility, the stage can accommodate a 60-foot high diving act or a series of rapid-fire across-the-floor flips. Honeymooners joyously frolic in a free-fall diving sequence just moments after back-lit acrobats skip across a pond, kicking watery plumes as they go.

Cirque du Soleil’s superhuman performers no longer seem confined by reality, with ghostly ships materializing center stage; piano-playing entertainers calmly descending into tranquil waters; and elaborately costumed performers floating, sighing and cavorting with the basic elements as if earth, wind, fire and water were as insubstantial as air.

O image3This serene frolic with the earthly elements isn’t easy to achieve. In fact, it took a Zen-like effort to secure such tranquility. The four primary underwater lifts in the 25-foot deep pool can move 19 feet up and down at speeds ranging from one- to 20-feet per second. Since the platforms rise and fall at such high speeds, designers drilled each platform with hundreds of tiny holes to allow the water to silently slip through instead of creating hazardous and distracting waves. A thick layer of randomly-sized pebbles surrounding the perimeter of the pool and an extremely sophisticated lighting system conquer waves caused by the performers, keeping the surface placid and seemingly undisturbed.

Eugen07_Veronique_VialSafety is also an issue. Since sequences often end with the performers slipping, diving or calmly descending into the water, all 81 members of the internationally culled cast have received their diving certifications so that they can breathe from the dozens of underwater compressed-air stations. Underwater cameras allow off-stage technicians to monitor for equipment failure or unexpected panic from a disoriented performer.

To prevent minor disorientations from turning into major problems, the offstage technician are in constant communication with two underwater scuba divers who wear full facemasks equipped with specially designed walkie-talkie regulators. The offstage technicians also communicate with the live musicians who cover unexpected changes. In turn, the underwater crew can be kept abreast of these minor adjustments so that set pieces or artists still appear on cue for a seamless presentation.

The team of 14 divers also guide performers to their places, help them find breathing stations and their way off stage through the underwater exits, and invisibly move large set pieces. Because water, electricity and humans don’t mix, safe underwater connectors were nabbed from NASA and large off-shore oil rigger technology.

While much of the action takes place in the water, once submerged, the artists are out of sight. What the audience does see takes place above the pool in a cavernous stage that rises nine stories from the bottom of the pool to the top of the ceiling. Acrobats, divers, and set pieces float on and off stage via a carousel that is anchored 60 feet overhead on an innovative overhead conveyer. The equivalent of a gantry crane with four lifting winches, six tracks and two independent winches, it can move up to 1,000 pounds at three feet per second and 2 rpms in a circular motion, virtually allowing set pieces and performers to enigmatically glide to any place on or above the stage.O image

With the magic realism of a Magritte, “O” draws the audience into a surreal 3-D painting in which we become engaged in the classic conflict of man against nature. We not only watch, we see, hear and feel the enigmatic battle. When acrobats cling and crawl over a floating, twisting grid in a storm-like downpour, the wet scent of cool air that billows out from the stage somehow makes the act more haunting. When water suddenly explodes into fire, subjecting the audience to an unexpected rush of heat, man’s insubstantial grip on reality is called into question, much as one must feel when a volcano erupts from previously solid ground. Without dialogue or a concrete story line, “O” shoots straight into the subconscious with a deft precision that lingers long after the curtain floats up to cover the stage.

“O”

Bellagio

3600 Las Vegas Blvd South,  888.987.6667 (map it)

7:30 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays. Dark Mondays and Tuesdays.

$150.00, $130.00, $99.00, and $93.50, not including 10% Live Entertainment Tax, as well as a $7.50 per ticket processing fee.

  • Holiday pricing Wednesday, December 23rd, – Saturday, January 3rd, 2010
    $176.00, $154.00, $119.90, $113.85  Ticket prices exclude a $7.50 handling fee.

    2009 Dark Dates:
    December 9 – 20

    2010 Dark Dates:
    February 7
    April 14 – 18
    June 13
    July 4
    August 11 – 15
    October 10
    December 8 – 21

    Image courtesy of Cirque du Soleil.

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