Mysterious Milestone

8,000 shows later, the original permanent Cirque du Soleil show continues to confound and amaze

On the evening of Oct. 18, once the audience had been seated—including those who were led by Mystère’s mischief-making clown, Brian Le Petit, to take the scenic route to their seats—the lights dimmed in TI’s Mystère Theatre for the 8,000th time, and the show began.

It was Christmas Day 1993 that La Vache à Lait first sounded her ancient horn of fertility to announce the birth of Mystère, and to mark a new era in Las Vegas entertainment. The feather boa, previously reigning supreme, suddenly found itself outclassed by the first Cirque du Soleil show ever to be performed in a permanent theater.

Mystère’s custom-built stage would bring the quality of Vegas entertainment to new heights: high-bars, trapeze and bungee acts, Chinese poles and trampolines. And new lows: The stage was built to bottom-out, accommodating an underworld scene and some good old-fashioned ladder-kicking slapstick.

With Mystère, artistic director Guy Laliberte ́ and director Franco Dragone created a performance of abstract brilliance that stretches imaginations in a way the Folies Bergère never could. They melded the aesthetics of contemporary culture with traditional circus acts to explore the mystery and miracle of life’s origin. The result: a collage of gravity-defying stunts, feats of strength, music, song, dance and comedy. It’s a fantasyland of bizarre and thought-provoking images. The big bang shares the stage with original sin, archangels, freaks of nature, sperm personified, the praying mantis and large, obnoxious babies.

Nearly 17 years later, Mystère is just one of seven Cirque shows that have a permanent home on the Strip. Yet, despite newer Cirque creations and bigger, more elaborate stages (O’s is comprised of a 1.5 million gallon pool) Mystère remains a local favorite.

It’s the intimacy of Mystère’s older and smaller theater that enthusiasts extol when defending it against larger and newer shows. With a mere 120-by-70 foot stage and only 1,629 seats, to sit in the theater is to sit amid the performers—they fly above, fall below, sneak behind and even squeeze between the audience. The experience is akin to stepping into a live painting where classic meets mythic meets circus.