Iris by Cirque du Soleil

As Cirque du Soleil has defined the modern circus, Hollywood has defined moviemaking. So it’s difficult to imagine a more fitting venue for Cirque’s homage to cinema than the Dolby Theatre (formerly the Kodak Theatre) in Hollywood, which has hosted the Academy Awards since 2001.

We’ve come to expect world-class acrobats, aerialists, gymnasts and dancers from the seven Cirque productions on the Strip, but Iris (which opened in September) soars when it blends the ephemera of what’s happening on and above its stage with the craft of moviemaking. Using cameras the audience can usually see, live action from the stage is near-instantaneously projected onto a variety of screens. Just like in a movie theater, different coloring, alternate angles, looping and other special effects trick your eyes.

On stage left a camera snaps a still image of an actor’s facial expression, a gesture or a hand-held sign; soon the image is projected on multiple screens from left to right across the stage, more actors rush up to appear before the camera, and additional images are revealed. The individual shots make no sense but when projected and repeated and augmented, a sense of movement and a short story are developed—just the way motion pictures have charmed since they were a carnival novelty.

Infinite possibilities of distortion and embellishment are explored as familiar movie genres of romance, drama, comedy and sci-fi are unspooled to a mesmerizing score by Danny Elfman (Spider-Man, The Nightmare Before Christmas). A parody of awards-show broadcasts cues audience members to appreciate where they are—the theater that celebrates the best of movies on the Walk of Fame that immortalizes the stars. And Iris, filled with wonder, beauty and hope, deftly reminds us of why we love movies. ★★★★☆

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