The Art Behind Zark

Finding insights—and fun—in a backstage tour of Vegas’ newest resident Cirque show

Cirque du Soleil’s efforts are so collaborative that when the company debuts a show—such as Zarkana at Aria—there is no one person to interview. Sure, there’s a writer-director (in this case François Girard, who bears an odd resemblance to the title character, Zark, a magician-ringmaster with similarly tousled hair). But even he is not the sole proprietor of artistic output. So Cirque offers a round-robin-style backstage tour, like a day of hyper-creative summer camp. Here are three highlights from the journey into the brains behind Zarkana.

The Setting

Set and props designer Stéphane Roy stands on the lip of an empty stage. Bare of actors, the stage itself is … on center stage. The effect is eerie and awesome. The floor bears swirling, foreboding designs, and concentric arches outline the performance space, which is made to look like an abandoned theater. I ask Roy what we should know about the set.

“Well, it’s filled with ghosts,” he says in a cheerful French-Canadian accent.

“Filled with … ghosts?

“In Zarkana, the main character, the magician, he’s awakening his past,” Roy answers. “And every portal is part of his life. So this set is like a carving of his soul. It’s one of the characters of the show.”

“Do you put your soul into the set?”

“Absolutely, everywhere, because this is the way I see things.” Roy goes on to describe drawing inspiration from art nouveau and the Spanish architect Gaudí. “I did the same thing with Zumanity, so it’s like plants became architecture, it grows, it’s alive. So, it’s a side of architecture that I really love, and I really like that.”

“Does your house look like this?”

He says he has a 150-year-old house in Montreal, but he “wouldn’t go that far because it’s too much to wake up to in the morning.”

Sand Painting

I peeked at the “canvas” of Vira Syvorotkina, a Ukrainian who paints with sand. The audience sees her images as a movie projection. But up close, the gradients of coloring reveal themselves to be sand-drizzled in different amounts over a lit surface. Her creations are hypnotizing—this is one of my favorite stations, as well as one of my favorite scenes in Zarkana.

High Wire

In a backstage practice area, the Colombian high-wire duo, Daniel Luis Acosta and Pedro Carrillo, playfully perform for tour groups. They are “practicing” on a not-so-low low wire (about 3 feet high). Both second-generation circus performers, they jump rope and jump over each other on the wire, while chatting about their jobs.

“What do you do on this wire?”

“We dodge a big pendulum, it’s a big ball that’s on fire, which is something new that’s never been done before,” says the more outgoing member of the duo, while his partner pirouettes. “It’s very dangerous, it’s a very heavy ball that’s on fire and if it hits us, first of all, we’re probably gonna bounce off the cable, and if that’s not bad enough, we might get burned. So yeah, it’s an exciting new addition to the show.”

“Are you afraid of heights?”

“No, but I respect them. I mean, I guess I am, but it’s a good thing because it keeps you from falling off.”