Since I’d seen him last summer at Radio City Music Hall, Zark has traveled the world, learned a new language and is now embarking upon a cross-country move. Rapid changes are common for a man of theater, and even less unusual for the main character of Cirque du Soleil’s Zarkana, which will arrive at Aria on Nov. 1.
On Aug. 29 I returned to New York City to see my old friend before the production’s big move. Watching Zarkana—a show loosely plotted around Zark’s “quest to regain his powers”—is like witnessing a classic circus with all the standard characters, such as clowns and jugglers. But its palette is dark, and its music is heavy and operatic with a Goth-rock feel. I could tell that the show had undergone some big changes since I’d last watched it. Having seen so many Cirque shows—I like to think I speak Cirque—the excitement for me comes in getting into the bones of the action and, in this case, meeting the minds behind Zark. I also wanted to find out the specifics of Zarkana’s changes.
So, I was eager to breakfast at Café Luxembourg, a French-American bistro in the Upper West Side, with two of the show’s most prominent French-Canadian creatives: artistic director Ann-Marie Corbeil and writer/director François Girard. In line with circus life, Corbeil calls Las Vegas home, but lives wherever her current show is. Girard lives in Quebec.
Corbeil and I both arrived about 15 minutes early, which gave us time to chat. She ordered a coffee and an orange juice, as I observed her new closely cropped haircut and French-Canadian elegance.
The conversation started with my old friend. “Zark seems so different as a character now,” I said. “What language was he speaking in the first version of the show? And did he grow his hair out?”
“Zark’s hair got longer when we went to gibberish to give him more of a rocker edge,” Corbeil answered, explaining how Zark’s operatic ballads went from English to the nonsensical scripted language called Cirque-ish. This switch helped overcome language barriers when the show traveled to Moscow and Madrid. Cirque kept the change when it determined that the score put too much emphasis on words and plot.
Our conversation paused for the arrival of a group of Las Vegas entertainment journalists. Corbeil ordered baked eggs, an exotic-to-me delight of a breakfast dish. Having chosen all-American fruit and yogurt, I had immediate egg envy.
Girard walked in briskly, and resembled a mad scientist. With his long hair and casual air, I also saw a bit of Zark in him. The conversation resumed, but not before Girard complimented his colleague. “Ann-Marie fixes what I do; it’s that simple,” he said. Girard ordered his eggs scrambled.
Adding to the subject of Zark’s language change, Girard affirmed the need for Cirque-ish. “We are paying tribute to the Golden Age of the American circus,” he said. “The acrobatics come first. It is a circus show and the primary content is acrobatic performance.”
I realized that, with Zarkana, Cirque would be returning to what it does best: acrobatics and impressive theatrical direction. It will step away from the complications of the overly historical Viva Elvis and return to the original source of its success, which can still be seen in the long-running Mystère. Taking a cue from that Vegas classic, Zarkana will let bodies and movement tell the story.
That was good news, and it revved up my appetite. Pushing aside my boring yogurt, I dove into a bit of the remnants of Corbeil’s baked eggs. Those French Canadians are on to something.
Big Top’s Big Move
Here are some fun facts about the show and its relocation.
• The unloading of the elaborate sets that make up Zark’s home—dilapidated innards of a freakish circus, gone awry—closed down 51st Street in midtown Manhattan for nearly a week.
• Zarkana’s cross-country move requires 65 trucks.
• Projections play a key role in the performance. Zarkana’s set is composed of screens that mimic theatrical drapes and add depth and scale to the action.
• Montreal’s Paul Bisson, who plays Zark, says he is pleased to return to Las Vegas. He previously played Quasimodo in Notre Dame De Paris at Paris Las Vegas.