Zarkana, Take Two

In June 2011, I had the pleasure of attending the opening night of Cirque du Soleil’s Zarkana at Radio City Music Hall. This, of course, was long before the announcement (last November) that it would replace Viva Elvis as the resident show at Aria.

This week, I was back at the iconic New York City theater to see one of the last performances of the show before it makes its cross-country trek to Las Vegas. These 14 months have served the show well. It has seen the world (touring to Moscow and Madrid), and it has received countless improvements (the period of tweaking and perfecting, which all Cirque shows go through after opening). Zarkana has made tremendously positive strides, and it will be a real treat for Vegas audiences who will see a well-oiled and well-tested 90-minute show when the first curtain goes up on Nov. 1.

Here are some of my impressions from Zarkana the second time around and a few exciting tidbits.

• Zarkana makes you feel as if you are peering through a tiny peephole at a dilapidated, freakish circus, gone awry—filled with all the standard characters such as clowns and jugglers.

• Its palette is dark, and its music is heavy and operatic with a rock-Goth feel.

• When Zarkana debuted, main character Zark sang his operatic ballads in English. The language was changed to jibbers when the show started touring internationally (to overcome any language barriers). But if you have seen any other Cirque shows (Ka, Mystère, etc.), Zark’s brand of gibberish should be familiar because it’s actually a nonsensical scripted language called Cirque-is.

• The show opens with a female juggler, something you won’t find in any other Vegas Cirque show. There is also an impressive flag act, which is unique to Zarkana.

• Pre-recorded projections play a key role in the performance. Zarkana’s set is composed of gigantic screens that mimic theatrical drapes and add depth and scale to the action.

Zarkana debuted with an intermission and a running time of more than 100 minutes. Now it’s a Vegas-friendly 90.

• Much like Mystère, this is a return to what Cirque does best: acrobatics and impressive theatrical direction. The bodies and movement tell the story.

• I have two favorite acts. I am simply obsessed with a scene when one of the clowns is catapulted out of a cannon rotating 360 degrees in what is known as an orbital harness.

• I am also a huge fan of the “sand painter” who retells the story of Zarkana via a live projection of her drawing out the actions in granules of sand. This is like nothing I have ever seen before.

Next up: I sit down with director/writer François Girard and artistic director Ann-Marie Corbeil, who share insight on how Zarkana will make its move across country. And we dare to ask the question: What exactly are those clowns drinking?