“O” is Beautiful, Even on the Small Screen

Though Cirque du Soleil’s big top shows have a pretty good track record of being preserved on video (and of late have been getting even faster, witness DVD’s of Toruk, The First Flight and Luzia), the same can’t be said of their resident shows. For the longest time fans assumed that Cirque’s contract with the host properties meant there could be no recording or broadcast.

Then in November, 2004, a fully-recorded version of La Nouba, Cirque’s resident show in Orlando at Walt Disney World was put on sale. (It was also broadcast, in April, 2005, on the US cultural network Bravo (where Cirque had a broadcast contract at the time)). The resultant video release gave fans a glimmer of hope that more resident show recordings might be forthcoming.

In 2007, news of KÀ being filmed rocked the fan world. While several Las Vegas Cirque productions had been rumored in the past to have been filmed in their entirety, nothing had ever been broadcast. The resulting production airing on the European cable network ARTE was a ground-breaker. Not only was it the entire production, but it was also accompanied by a 90-minute behind-the-scenes documentary meant to run in sync with the program through ARTE’s website. (And by way of completeness, Editor Ricky also notes that Amaluna also aired, in a 50-minute version, on ARTE in May, 2013.)

We have asked about the “policy” (and its notable exceptions) in our exclusive interviews with two Cirque executives. In our 2010 conversation with Daniel Lamarre, CEO of Cirque he addressed the issue with these words. “It’s not by contract, it’s more the philosophical approach of the casino. They’re afraid we will lose clientele, which as a matter of fact, is totally contrary [to what we’ve found]. Because when we put our shows on video it entices people to come to the show.”

A later conversation with Jerry Nadal, VP of the Resident Shows division gave us more insight and filled in details on the exceptions. “[The contracts] don’t forbid it, but they have exclusivity. And we’ve never felt there was value [in doing a video]. And the casinos didn’t feel that there was a value in broadcasting the show or making it available. They wanted that exclusivity, that if you want to see it you have to come [to Las Vegas] to see it.”

In the case of the Disney World-based La Nouba, (benefiting from it’s non-casino based location) recording and broadcasting the show had a positive effect. “[As opposed to Las Vegas] you’re going down [to Orlando] with a different mindset; you’re going down there for the theme parks and everything. Because of our deal with Bravo at the time [after the broadcast of La Nouba in April of 2005] we actually saw an increase [in sales]. People would say they saw it on TV and it was something that interested them. It did [increase sales] and we’ve said that to people. But the hotels say they want to maintain that exclusivity and we don’t have a problem with that.”

So how does that policy square with the broadcast of KÀ on ARTE-TV back in late December of 2008? “It was an opportunity that came to us from the TV station; they asked to do it. It was [broadcast] over two nights over a holiday period. One night was [the show] and one night was behind-the-scenes. We thought it was a good opportunity. At the time because of the growing international market we thought there was great value in showing what was there, the size and scale of it, because what we’ve had through Europe have been touring shows. So we thought there would be good value there. And we knew that through social media and YouTube there would be chunks that would end up making the rounds. I don’t think it’s hurt the show at all.”

That idea of introducing Europeans to the grand scope and larger size of the Las Vegas resident Cirque shows continues, as ten years on the world is rocked again, as ARTE-TV (Association Relative à la Télévision Européenne, a French-German TV network, www.arte.tv) has filmed and broadcast “O,” what some fans testify is the pinnacle of Cirque’s creativity. Filmed in October 2017 at the Bellagio Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, the show was first broadcast on December 26, 2017, and put online as a stream soon after.

Now, before reading further – Stop. Go check it out (if it’s still possible). You’ll thank me later.
It’s available in two languages, either German or French (which really only matters during the introduction).

• For German go here.
• For French go here.

If you can download it, do so. Right now. Don’t hesitate! Do it!!

And, as an additional bonus, while you’re thinking of it, also download the “Behind The Scenes” video that accompanies the broadcast!

• For German go here.
• For French go here.

Got both nestled safely on your hard drive? Ok, we can proceed.

Let’s talk about the “Behind The Scenes” featurette first. It’s 6:45 long, with the same technical specs as the full show (which we discuss below). It includes interview bits with the following:

Daniel Lamarre – CEO (speaking English)
Gabriel Pinkstone – VP, Show Quality (English)
Jerry Nadal – VP, Resident Shows (English)
Benoit Jutras – “O” Composer (French)
Katy Savoie – Synchronized swimmer and coach (French)
Dominique Lemieux – Costume Designer (French)

Other than the interviews, there are very few shots presented here that aren’t in the show, though most of the new shots are from underwater showing divers helping artists, and are interesting in that regard. Other than extolling the virtues of “O” in the pantheon of Cirque shows, there is not much new info for Cirque fans. Though in discussing why the show has such a strong reputation, Mr. Nadal points out that after Bellagio opened in 1998 there were no new casino properties opening for another 3 years. This gave “O” three years as ‘the new shiny object’ on the strip and allowed it to build its reputation uninterrupted.

Three of the interviewees speak French, so I can’t tell what they’re saying (anybody want to translate?) It’s interesting to note that, despite ARTE being a French-German collaboration, Lamarre and Pinkstone don’t also speak French in the piece.

So, after that “pre-show animation” how is the actual show recording?

The resultant MP4 program is 1.5 GIGS of data, for a total running time of 93 ½ minutes. It is in pretty good quality for a download, measuring 1280 frames wide by 720 frames high (called “720”), with a transfer rate of 2.3 megabits per second. The audio is also not shabby, with a transfer rate of 125 kilobits per second.

Okay, enough about the specs, how is the program? Pretty much the entire show from start to finish! But first you must sit through two minutes of introduction, in German or French. Introducing Vegas, the various Cirque shows, and the importance of “O” in Cirque’s inventory. The show then begins with the pre-show animation, where an “innocent” audience member is plucked from the audience to become part of “O”’s world.

Other filmed Cirque productions generally pick up after pre-show animation and warnings, as the show really begins. But here it is important to understand the character Guifà’s (Philemon) part in the story of the show. He is seduced by his beauty Aurora, and is escorted to the stage to read the warning announcements, before being lifted into “O”’s watery world. From what I can remember, including warning announcements in a show video hasn’t been done before.

The show then begins, and from what I can tell includes all the acts in their regular order over the following 83 ½ minutes, though there may have been some small cuts. (Editor Ricky noted that the cadre act (Zebras on a tilting grid of squares) is not the full act, as some choreography, including walking upside down on the apparatus, was missing here.) The show is well-lit and bright, and the high detail of the download is better than the KÀ recording (placed online in a lower definition “480” format), or nearly any other “unofficial” resident show recording to make the rounds of fannish circles.

Unlike other Cirque videos, once the show proper starts there are next to no audience reaction shots. Once you enter the world of “O” you are submerged for the duration. A number of camera angles capture the action, including from the sides of the stage, behind the stage, from high in the rafters, even occasional underwater shots. The shots tend to be rather quick, which can cause a disruption in following the action.

The director, Benoît Giguère, invites us deeper into the many storylines by focusing on small bits of character action in between individual tricks or larger stage actions. The camera will focus on the Zebras, or the Comets, or Eugen, who will have some small bit of business or a reaction, but it adds so much to the show. I see things here I have not noticed in our viewings of the show. (And new bits, like Eugen holding up a cell-phone-photo-encouraging “Photo Op” sign during the curtain call.)

I looked carefully for edit points, where they could trim in order to make a 90-minute runtime. I couldn’t find any, even in the two clown interludes which look to be presented in their entirety. It would have been very easy to eliminate one of those completely in order to save time. Yet here they are.

In an interesting twist, the credits are presented in English. Though it would have been nice if the artists had been referenced by their main act or character name rather than in one lump as they are here. An artist with the show mentioned online that there were several “regulars” who were not performing when the show was recorded, but it didn’t look to us to have affected the show.

The sheer beauty that is “O” is well preserved here. The director, Benoît Giguère and Producer Sébastien Ouimet (who also produced the Toruk, The First Flight video), and the rest of the team at Cirque du Soleil Images are to be commended. Though I don’t expect it to be available on DVD or Blu-Ray anytime soon, it will be available in fannish circles for years to come.

You got your copy while you were reading this – didn’t you?