Review of CRYSTAL’s Gala Premiere in Montreal!

Crystal, which had its premiere at the Bell Centre Wednesday night and continues until Dec. 31, is a lot of fun, effortlessly blending the eye-popping acrobatics of the Cirque with the blade action of an ice show.

But as so often happens with a blend of two genres, the end result leaves you a little unsatisfied. It’s an ingenuous mix of the two forms, but it’s neither the best of the Cirque nor the best of the ice-skating game. In some ways, it may be a sign of the new Cirque, a live-entertainment company that now has newish corporate owners who are undoubtedly going to be more demanding about nabbing strong returns every quarter.

There’s a jarring moment near the end of the first half, when Crystal, portrayed by Canadian performer Nobahar Dadui, comes out on the ice sporting a red Canadiens sweater. It is during the hockey sequence that is the climax of Act 1, an inspirational choreography that features skaters flying over skateboard-like ramps and generally creating much excitement. It’s a blast.

It’s one of the stronger moments in Crystal, but still. Crystal is wearing a Habs jersey! Think about it for a sec. This is what the Cirque has become. It’s cross-promotion, baby. Yeah, the sweater elicited a big cheer from the generally very enthused Bell Centre crowd, so clearly marketing-wise the Cirque team made the right choice. But it’s a clear-cut sign of the new more commercial Cirque. This would’ve been unimaginable 10 years ago.

Co-directors Shana Carroll and Sébastien Soldevila have been at pains to distance themselves from Disney on Ice, but clearly they’d like to scoop up some of that audience with this show. Don’t get me wrong. Crystal is way more artistically challenging and poetic than a Disney ice show, but the Cirque most definitely wants to pull in the kids and the adults with this.

There are also pop songs here, a first for a Cirque show that’s not a tribute to a pop star like Michael Jackson or The Beatles. There are hits from Sia, Beyoncé and U2, sung by Quebec artists, and once again it’s a long way from the electro-tinged world music with made-up languages that was the standard Cirque soundtrack back in the day. In addition, much of the music is pre-recorded, another change, though there are three live musicians playing keyboards, violin, wind instruments and guitar who actually appear on stage on-and-0ff over the course of the soirée.

The show starts slowly, setting the stage for Crystal’s story, and there’s a notable lack of wow moments in the early going. The first half only really comes to life with the aforementioned hockey sequence.

The second section works much better, from the sequence with Crystal stuck in a maze to an amazing swinging-pole routine. There’s a hugely entertaining tap-dancing on skates sequence and then comes the most moving moment of the night, an aerial straps pas de deux performed to the tune of Beyoncé’s Halo (sung with verve by Gabrielle Shonk) with French acrobat Jérôme Sordillon literally sweeping Crystal off her feet (or rather off her skates). It’s a thing of beauty.

It all winds down with the entire cast coming back to whoop up with a little help from U2’s Beautiful Day and as you watch that, you can’t help thinking you’re watching a whole new Cirque. Cirque founder and former owner Guy Laliberté was buddies with Bono and the U2 boys, but their songs never appeared in the Cirque’s shows. But the Cirque circa 2017 isn’t above using big pop hits to pull in the crowds.

{ SOURCE: Brendan Kelley, Montreal Gazette | }