Fusers Chelsea Coubry-Forte, Gerard Creces and Jen Hillhouse attended the opening night of Cirque du Soleil’s Crystal at Budweiser Gardens, and each took away a different experience. See if for yourself. The show runs until June 17.

 

 

From Jen… Beautiful, but hard to follow

You wouldn’t typically pair acrobatics and ice skating together – too many blades with too little clothing. But Cirque du Soleil’s new creation “Crystal” wasn’t really aiming for typical.

The ice wasn’t an inhibitor to the troupe’s performance, in fact, the environment opened up new possibilities for incredible stunts like a law-defying hockey scene, acrobatic tap dancing on ice, and even an aerial strap pas de deux mixed with a figure skating number.

The whole performance sent chills down my spine, but after finding myself entranced by the antics of figure skaters in business suits and geometric plastic wigs taunting each other with yellow flowers, I had to pause and ask myself –

What’s supposed to be going on again?

"Ballroom Aerial Straps." Photo by Matt Beard.
“Ballroom Aerial Straps.” Photo by Matt Beard.

Because there is a narrative to Crystal, but unfortunately it is not one that is obvious amidst the artistry that is Montreal’s Cirque du Soleil.

The acrobatics, aerial stunts, dancing, music, and original art are all marvelous sights to behold – and they really stood out against the unclear and blundering storyline of the main character Crystal.

Marketed as a coming-of-age story of a young woman who doesn’t quite fit in, the storyline fumbles through complicated social commentary on the rat race, suburban life, the nuclear family, a suspicious “upside down” world knockoff, a doppelganger, then three doppelgangers (throppelgangers? Shameless?), sinister characters clad in the snow suits from Inception, a marriage plot, and SpongeBob’s magic pen, before finally landing on the take home message:

Believe in yourself and the power of ice-skating.

Or it might just be “believe in yourself,” I’m still not totally sure.

While complicated and tangential narrative lines make for amazing sets, costumes, and music, they don’t lend themselves to be neatly tied up at the end in a pretty red-scarf of self-esteem.

The mercurial plotlines did however allow for the characters to go from a comical classroom and playground setting, to a glamorous ballroom setting in minutes.

Crystal’s varied setting mixture begs the question – why not just set it up as beautiful fragmented scenes in the first place?

I’m not watching Cirque du Soleil for its convoluted messages on growing up and feeling different, or discovering one’s sexual needs while 20 feet in the air – I’m watching it to say “OHMYGODSHE’SGONNADIE” lots of times while annoying all the people around me.

Return of Reflection 2 - Photo by Matt Beard 2018_preview
Return of Reflection 2 – Photo by Matt Beard 2018_preview

So next time Cirque du Soleil, when you release “Crystal: Fully Loaded,” keep all the cool blade dodging and scrap the plot nobody can really follow.

From Chelsea… Many stories in one

This weekend in London at the Budweiser Gardens is one of Cirque du Soleil Crystal’s last stops in Canada and it’s safe to say that they opened this leg of the tour on Thursday night with a bang.

Crystal is Cirque du Soleil’s very first ice experience but for those unfamiliar with the classic formula, you might be shocked to hear that this is a breakthrough considering the performances were spectacular.

What I was quick to pick up on were some film and TV references entwined into the act – some of which may be intentional, others I may be stretching. Considering that I was going to write about my experience, I wanted to pinpoint two similar stories that combine to make Crystal.

I wrestled with Frozen meets The Wizard of Oz or Alice in Wonderland meets Orphan Black. Inspiration from Frozen was the most obvious considering the act surrounds a young woman’s journey to gain control over her icy surroundings. The Wizard of Oz was evident in an encapsulating display of a rainbow which seemed to allude to the infamous song as well as the presence of a silly jester-type character perhaps similar to the Tin Man?

Courtship - Photo by Matt Beard 2018_preview
Courtship – Photo by Matt Beard 2018_preview

It was also clear that Crystal, the main character, was in a sort of Wonderland, encountering numerous crazy characters as well as learning to be playful and free.

As for Orphan Black, the recurrence of Crystal’s doppelgangers who both act with and against her is enough to yield a comparison.

The genius of Crystal, however, is that it is both a combination of all of these things as well as none of them in their entirety.

The story revolves around a girl struggling with her inner self and is thrown into a fantasy world where she can have fun, find love, battle her demons, and rise from the ashes into reality.

They utilize the ice not only for dazzling acts and acrobatic performance but also to represent the world as it is – slippery, fragile, and dangerous, yet exhilarating and capable of beauty. See the show for yourself and feel free to mention whether you saw all, some, or none of these references.

From Gerard… Sound and illusion

I could have watch Cirque Du Soliel’s Crystal four different times and walked away with four different impressions.

Billed as ‘a breakthrough ice experience’, the show lives up to its name, as its protagonist literally falls through the ice into a strange and wonderful fantasy world.

Stunt skaters, acrobats, trapeze artists, jugglers – there was every component of a great circus present in the arena. However, it was the technical work – particularly the beautiful music by composer Maxim Lepage – that made the fantasy complete, at least for this writer.

At times the music was fragile, at others hard and unyielding and still others jagged and pointed – just like ice. The music was composed and arranged in such a way that you could close your eyes and enjoy a whole other story.

Tempete - Photo by Matt Beard 2017_preview
Tempete – Photo by Matt Beard 2017_preview

Props to the musicians who appeared throughout the story on the ice and the set. Seeing them work their magic in and among the cast made it all the more enjoyable.

Crystal was also spectacularly lit.

From the silhouette-heavy opening, to the cleverly crafted ‘reflections’ below the ice and cracks on the surface – the lighting could not have been better executed.

White arcs tracing the skaters’ every motion bled out into washes of blue and red in a scene where multiple Crystals are chasing one another. When she finally breaks through the ice, the lights create the illusion of water rushing toward the audience. It was enough to make me sit back in my seat and wait for it to wash over me.

Adding to the multimedia experience were images and animations that turned the ice and the scenery into a giant canvas (or writing paper, as Crytsal writes her tale from the confines of her bedroom).

A Day in the life - Photo by Matt Beard 2018_preview
A Day in the life – Photo by Matt Beard 2018_preview

While there was always a clear focal point as far as the story is concerned, it was hard to stick with it since there were so many subtle embellishments going on in the background. When you have a stage full of incredible athletes and acrobats, it’s hard to follow any one thing.

It’s a good problem to have.

For me, the moment of the night was not a daring feat of acrobatics or skating wizardry, but a background technical scene.

There is one point in the show where Crystal is stuck at a typewriter, pounding out a beat with the rest of the office pool. From high up in the set (Crystal’s bedroom), you can see the silhouette of the topside Crystal, sitting sideways on the wall doing the same.

For all the swirling and twirling on the ice, it was this easily overlooked detail that blew my mind. The show was full of them.

Crystal is playing until Sun. June 17.

You can buy tickets to the show here!

https://www.budweisergardens.com/events/detail/cirque-du-soleil-crystal

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