Downsizing to TV Pumps Up Appeal of Cirque Flick


Intimacy plus Cirque equals … an oxymoron?

Surprisingly, no—not on a TV screen, anyway.

Migrating from movie houses, the filmed Vegas-Cirque smorgasbord Cirque du Soleil: Worlds Away has arrived on cable’s Epix (Cox channels 309 and 1309).

Debuting at theaters last Christmas to respectful but not rhapsodic reviews, Worlds Away holds a 47 percent rating among critics, but scores 59 percent for moviegoers. Bottom line: so-so reception—unsurprising given that a big screen mimics the size of a Cirque extravaganza, but sacrifices the electricity of a live show.

Yet the small screen, while shrinking Cirque’s scope, accomplishes what neither the stage nor big screen can—it inflates its humanity.

Combining segments from Vegas’ seven Cirque shows in 2011—MystéreOZumanityCriss Angel BelieveThe Beatles Love and since-departed Viva ElvisWorlds hangs on a wisp of a story about a young woman smitten with an acrobat who vanishes into the surreal Cirque-verse, triggering her phantasmagorical journey in pursuit.

As its patented mind-boggling maneuvers unfold, Cirque in TV miniature morphs from a group thrill to a personal—and intimate—experience. Though often in wide shot to capture the grandeur, the camera actually delivers some faces—not often emphasized in Cirque’s body-centric style—and plops us atop sky-high platforms and catwalks to tumble, dip and soar along with the performers.

Cropped to the TV screen (no matter how big your screen), Worlds Away feels anything but worlds away. While the stage experience can be overpowering, it can also be distancing, swamping the senses, rather than reaching out to us in a relatable fashion. There, Cirque is an otherworldly force. In your living room, Cirque is a gorgeous houseguest.

Though many Cirque creations have nominal, often inscrutable plots, their resolution is never more than a side note onstage. Ironically, I was never more affected by one than watching Worlds Away at home, where the TV screen humanized the smitten young woman and her acrobatic soulmate when they finally reunite, their climactic, intertwined flight not so much inspiring awe as touching an emotion.

Only one moment rattles now. Early on, the acrobat plummets from his high perch into the sandpit/gateway that transports him to Cirque Land—an unfortunate reminder of the fatal fall of dancer Sarah Guillot-Guyard in June, six months after the film’s release.

Given its eight-show Strip dominance now, Cirque fatigue parallels Cirque fascination—the law of diminishing returns applies, even if the returns are artistically sumptuous. Yet on TV, Cirque seems reinvented.

Grand spectacle is transformed into human spectacle.

STRIP POSTSCRIPT: Returning to a Vegas showroom for the 54th straight year, Don Rickles, longtime mascot of The Hockey Puck Manufacturers of America—OK, we made that up—performs at the Orleans on September 28-29. Opening the show is an Ol’ Blues Eyes tribute by actor/singer/Sinatra admirer Robert Davi (Die HardLicense to Kill).

At 87, the Merchant of Venom might be in the December of his career, but his tongue could still slice a Christmas ham. Happy No. 54, Don—and many more.

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